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Islands in the Sky 

By ARTHUR C. CLARKE 

Jacket Illustration by Alex Schomburg 

When young Roy Malcolm won the 
Aviation Quiz Contest, the spon- 
sor, World Airways, never dreamed he 
eould legally claim a trip to the Inner 
Space Station as his prize. Set in the 
middle of the twenty-first century, this 
is an amazing yarn about a teen-ager s 
adventures and conflicts five hundred 
miles up on a strange, artificial outpost 
that circles our planet. 

What promised to be merely a sight- 
seeing jaunt into space soon shaped up 
into the most thrilling weeks in Roy's 
life. For shortly after his arrival at the 
outpost a mysterious and untalkativc 
spaceship "anchored" ten miles off the 
station — and its suspicious behavior 
fitted in perfectly with the space crew's 
ideas on interplanetary crime. The sur- 
prising outcome of this uninvited visit, 
a race-for-life mission aboard a long- 
abandoned ship, a weird mishap that 
necessitates a trip around the moon 
spark this story with thrills and suspense. 

Bristling with excitement, this is a tale 
that can't be matched in science fiction, 
for the author, Chairman of the British 
Interplanetary Society, knows how to 
translate his vast knowledge of the uni- 
verse into an ingenious novel. Told by 
an acclaimed expert in the field, Islands 
in THE Sky is unique not only as enter- 
tainment but as the most lucid, most 
accurate picture of man's proposed con- 
quest of space. 

THE JOHN C. WINSTON COMPANY 

Philadelphia and Toronto 

0120 



Zhe Author 

Ahthur C. Clarke, world-renowned 
as a physicist, novelist and Chairman of 
the British Interplanetary Society, has 
written this unusual novel to present to 
the reader a clear idea of the way space 
may be conquered, a feat which he 
claims will be launched within the next 
ten years. A brilliant man, Mr. Clarke 
began his remarkable career at the age 
of sixteen. Since then he has been a radar 
specialist for the RAF, a science editor, 
and is now a full-time author, TV and 
radio writer. Author of many books, the 
latest of which is The Exploration of 
Space, Arthur Clarke combines realism 
and accuracy with imaginative story- 
telling to produce a novel that is unique 
in the science fiction field. 

Zhe Editors 

Cecile Matsoiiat, editor of the Wins- 
ton Science Fiction series, is recognized 
as one of this country's most skilful 
writers and editors. She has sixteen 
books to her credit, including the highly 
praised Suwanee River in the "Rivers of 
America" series. Nationally known as a 
lecturer, an artist of great ability, Cecile 
Matschat is also an expert historian. 
With this varied background, she is per- 
fectly suited to select top science fiction 
authors and books to make this a bal- 
anced and well-rounded series. 

Carl Carmer, consulting editor, 
holds an outstanding position in the 
literary world. Author of Stars Fell on 
Alabama, he now edits the popular 
"Rivers of America" series. Other of his 
books are Genesee Fever, For the Rights 
of Man, Listen for a Lonesome Drum, 
and Windfall Fiddle. 



Jf you Want the Best in Science diction, 



look for books with this distinctive herald 

Twenty-eight unique books by leading science fiction 
writers and well-known scientists . . . 

The Secret of the Mabtian Moons— 
by Donald A. Wollheim 

Step to the Stars— by Lester del Rey 

The World at Bay— by Paul Capon 

The Secret of Saturn's Rings— by 
Donald A. Wollheim 




Rockets to Nowhere— by Philip St. 
John 

Trouble on Titan— by Alan E. 
Nourse 

The Star Seekers— by Milton Lesser 

Missing Men of Saturn— by Philip 
Latham 

Planet of LlGHT-by Raymond Jones 

Dancer: Dinosaurs! — by Richard 
Marsten 

Attack from Atlantis— by Lester del 
Rey 

Vandals of the Void— by Jack Vance 

Rocket to LuNA-by Richard Marsten 

Battle on Mercury — by Erik Van 
Lhin 

Mystery of the Third Mine— by 
Robert W. Lowndes 



The Ant Men— by Eric North 

The Mysterious Planet — by Kenneth 
Wright 

Mists of Dawn— by Chad Oliver 

Rocket Jockey — by Philip St. John 

Vault of the Ages— by Poul Anderson 

Islands tn the Sky — by Arthur C. 
Clarke 

Sons of the Ocean Deeps— by Bryce 
Walton 

Earthbound— by Milton Lesser 

Son of the Stars— by Raymond Jones 

Find the Feathered Serpent— by 
Evan Hunter 

Five Against Venus — by Philip 
Latham 

Marooned on Mars— by Lester del 
Rey 



A Science Fiction Special 

The Year After Tomorrow— An Anthology of Science Fiction Stories-edited 
by Lester del Rey, Carl Canner and Cecile Matschat. Illustrated by Mel Hunter. 

THE JOHN C. WINSTON COMPANY 

Philadelphia and Toronto 



Mands in the Sky 



A Science Fiction Novel 




By ARTHUR C. CLARKE 

Jacket and Endpaper Designs by Alex Schomburg 




Ceci/e Matschaf, Editor 
Carl Carmer, Consulting Editor 

THE JOHN C. WINSTON COMPANY 
Philadelphia * Toronto 



Copyright, 1952 
By Arthuh C. Clarke 

Copyright in Great Britain 
and the British Dominions 
and Possessions 
Copyright in the Republic of 
the Philippines 



FIRST PRINTING, JULY, 1952 
SECOND PRINTING, MAY, 1954 
THIRD PRINTING, FEBRUARY, 1956 



Made in the United States of America 

L. C. Card #52-8970 



For Ian 

From an Elizabethan 
to a Georgian 



Other Books by the Same Author 

FICTION 

The Sands of Mars 

NON-FICTION 

Interplanetary Flight 
The Exploration of Space 



Cities in Space 



IIot only writers of science fiction stories but many 
hi scientists believe that space stations— similar to 
II the one described in this book— may be built even 
bef ore any attempt is made to reach the moon. 
Used in a broad sense, the term "space station" 
means any man-made structure in a permanent, stable 
orbit. Automatic missiles carrying instruments prob- 
ably will be established beyond the atmosphere in the 
early 1960s. Piloted missiles undoubtedly will soon 
follow, even though they remain in their orbits only 
for a short time. But permanent manned bases, which 
eventually may grow into small cities constructed in 
space, should be the generally accepted meaning of 
the term "space station." 

vii 



Islands in the Sky 



These space stations, depending upon their size, 
will cost about one billion dollars each. It is hoped 
that they will be going up by the end of this century. 
At first, these stations will be used chiefly as observa- 
tories, and for the refueling and repairing of rockets 
or spaceships. Later, they may be used as "frontier 
towns" for colonists, if it is found feasible to colonize 
other planets. 

The first space station will undoubtedly be built 
from spaceships that have blasted off from earth and 
reached orbital velocity. Since there is no weight in 
space, the rocket ships will simply dump their loads 
and leave them there until needed. The assembling 
of the various parts of the space station will be done 
by men in space suits or tiny one-man spaceships, 
propelled by reaction pistols or gas jets. 

The first space station almost certainly will be used 
as living quarters for the staff. It probably will re- 
semble a huge ball and will be pressurized to assure 
normal atmosphere. Later, other designs— such as flat 
disks resembling the so-called flying saucers— might 
be developed. Some, especially those used to house 
the staff, would spin slowly, so that there would ap- 
pear to be normal gravity at the rim; at the axis there 
would be no gravity at all, and thus experiments with 
delicate instruments might easily be carried out. 

The height at which space stations would be con- 
structed above the earth would depend primarily 
upon the purpose for which they were designed. Re- 



Cities in Space 



fueling stations, for example, would be as close to the 
earth as possible— say five hundred miles up. But as- 
tronomical observatories, which present the most in- 
teresting possibilities opened up by the space station, 
would be at ten or a hundred times this distance. The 
weightless condition of any body in free orbit would 
permit the building of instruments, such as the radio- 
telescope, literally miles in diameter and still make 
them movable. The largest radio-telescope on earth 
to date is about two hundred feet in diameter, and it 
cannot be moved because of its size. 

Because much of this is theory, which cannot be 
proved until the first space station is built, it is diffi- 
cult to foretell exactly what the worlds of the future 
may be. Perhaps the artificial worlds we have created 
will become as important as the original, natural 
planets. These worlds may develop their own climate, 
food-producing areas, and specialized activities. Pos- 
sibly, a thousand years from now, only a small pro- 
portion of the human race will live upon the earth, 
and the sun's family may be much larger than it is 
today. 

A. C. 



Contents 



chaptoh PAGt; 

Cities in Space vii 

1 . Jackpot to Space 1 

2. Good-by to Gravity 14 

3. The Morning Star 44 

4. A Plague of Pirates 63 

5. Star Turn 78 

6. Hospital in Space 95 

7. World of Monsters 117 

8. Into the Abyss 131 

9. The Shot from the Moon . ... 1 52 

10. Radio Satellite 169 

11. Starlight Hotel 181 

12. The Long Fall Home 197 



Jslands in the Sky 



Chapter / Jackpot to Space 



t was Uncle Jim who'd said, "Whatever happens, 
Roy, don't worry about it. Just relax and enjoy your- 
self." I remembered those words as I followed the 
other competitors into the big studio, and I don't 
think I felt particularly nervous. After all, however 
badly I wanted the prize, it was only a game. 

The audience was already in its place, talking and 
fidgeting and waiting for the program to begin. It 
gave a little cheer as we walked up on to the stage 
and took our seats. I had a quick look at the five other 
competitors, and was a bit disappointed. Each of them 
looked quite sure that he was going to win. 

There was another cheer from the audience as 
Elmer Schmitz, the Quiz Master, came into the studio. 
I'd met him before, of course, in the semifinals, and I 
i 



2 



Islands in the Sky 



expect you've seen him often enough on TV. He gave 
us some last-minute instructions, moved to his place 
under the spotlights, and signaled to the cameras. 
There was a sudden hush as the red light came on. 
From where I was sitting I could see Elmer adjusting 
his smile. 

"Good evening, folks! This is Elmer Schmitz, pre- 
senting to you the finalists in our Aviation Quiz Pro- 
gram, brought to you by arrangement with World Air- 
ways, Incorporated. The six young men we have here 
tonight . . * 

But I guess it wouldn't be very modest to repeat 
the things he said about us. It all added up to the 
fact that we knew a lot about everything that Hew- 
in the air and outside it— and had beaten about five 
thousand other members of the Junior Rocket Club 
in a series of nationwide contests. Tonight would be 
the final elimination tests to select the winner. 

It started easily enough, on the lines of earlier 
rounds. Elmer fired off a question at each of us in 
turn, and we had twenty seconds in which to answer. 
Mine was pretty easy; he wanted to know the altitude 
record for a pure jet. Everyone else got his answer 
right too. I think those first questions were just to 
give us confidence. 

Then it got tougher. We couldn't see our scores, 
which were being flashed up on a screen facing the 
audience, but you could tell when you'd given the 
right answer by the noise they made. I forgot to say 



Jackpot to Space 



3 



that you lost a point when you gave the wrong reply. 
That was to prevent guessing. If you didn't know, it 
was best to say nothing at all. 

As far as I could tell, I'd made only one mistake, 
but there was a kid from New Washington who I 
thought hadn't made any— though I couldn't be sure 
of this, because it was difficult to keep track of the 
others while you were wondering what Elmer had 
coming up for you. I was feeling rather gloomy, when 
suddenly the lights dimmed and a hidden movie 
projector went into action. 

"Now," said Elmer, "the last round! You'll each see 
some kind of aircraft or rocket for one second and 
in that time you must identify it. Ready?" 

A second sounds awfully short, but it isn't really. 
You can grasp a great deal in that time, enough to 
recognize anything you know really well. But some 
of the machines they showed us went back over a 
hundred years. One or two even had propellors! This 
was lucky for me: I'd always been interested in the 
history of flying and could spot some of those antiques. 
That was where the boy from New Washington fell 
down badly. They gave him a picture of the original 
Wright biplane, which you can see in the Smithsonian 
any day, and he didn't know it. Afterward he said he 
was interested only in rockets, and that the test wasn't 
fair. But I thought it served him right. 

They gave me the Dornier DO-X and a B-52, and 
I knew them both. So I wasn't really surprised when 



4 



Islands in the Sky 



Elmer called out my name as soon as the lights went 
up. Still, it was a proud moment as I walked over to 
him, with the cameras following me and the audience 



"Congratulations, Roy!" said Elmer heartily, shak- 
ing my hand. "Almost a perfect score. You missed only 
one question. I have great pleasure in announcing 
you as the winner of this World Airways Contest. As 
you know, the prize is a trip, all expenses paid, to any 
place in the world. We're all interested to hear your 
choice. What is it going to be? You can go anywhere 
you like between the North and South Poles!" 

My lips went kind of dry. Though I'd made all my 
plans weeks ago, it was different now that the time 
had actually come. I felt awfully lonely in that huge 
studio, with everyone around me so quiet and wait- 
ing for what I was going to say. My voice sounded a 
long way off when I answered. 

"I want to go to the Inner Station." 

Elmer looked puzzled, surprised and annoyed all 
at once. There was a sort of rustle from the audience, 
and I heard someone give a little laugh. Perhaps that 
made Elmer decide to be funny too. 

"Ha, ha, very amusing, Roy! But the prize is any- 
where on earth. You must stick to the rules, you know!" 

I could tell he was laughing at me, and that made 
me mad. So I came back with: "I've read the rules very 
carefully. And they don't say 'on earth.' They say, 'To 
any part of the earth.' There's a big difference." 




Jackpot io Space 



5 



Elmer was smart. He knew there was trouble brew- 
ing, for his grin faded out at once, and he looked 
anxiously at the TV cameras. 

"Go on," he said. 

I cleared my throat. 

"In 2054," I continued, "the United States, like all 
the other members of the Atlantic Federation, signed 
the Tycho Convention, which decided how far into 
space any planet's legal rights extended. Under that 
Convention, the Inner Station is part of earth, be- 
cause it's inside the thousand kilometer limit." 

Elmer gave me a most peculiar look. Then he re- 
laxed a little and said, "Tell me, Roy, is your dad 
an attorney?" 

I shook my head. "No, he isn't." 

Of course I might have added, "But my Uncle Jim 
is." I decided not to; there was going to be enough 
trouble anyway. 

Elmer made a few attempts to make me change 
my mind, but there was nothing doing. Time was run- 
ning out, and the audience was on my side. Finally 
he gave up and said with a laugh: 

"Well, you're a very determined young man. You've 
won the prize, anyway, and it looks as if the legal 
eagles take over from here. I hope there's something 
left for you when they've finished wrangling!" 

I rather hoped so too! 

Of course, Elmer was right in thinking I'd not 
worked all this out by myself. Uncle Jim, who's coun- 



6 



Islands in the Sky 



selor for a big atomic energy combine, had spotted 
the opportunity soon after I'd entered the contest. 
He'd told me what to say and had promised that 
World Airways couldn't wriggle out of it. Even if they 
could, so many people had seen me on the air that 
it would be very bad publicity for them if they tried. 
"Just stick to your guns, Roy," he'd said, "and don't 
agree to anything until you've talked it over with me." 

Mom and Pop were pretty mad about the whole 
business. They'd been watching, and as soon as I 
started bargaining they knew what had happened. 
Pop rang up Uncle Jim at once and gave him a piece 
of his mind (I heard about it afterward), but it was 
too late for them to stop me. 

You see, I'd been crazy to go out into space for as 
long as I can remember. I was sixteen when all this 
happened, and rather big for my age. I'd read every- 
thing I could get hold of about aviation and astro- 
nautics, seen all the movies and telecasts from space, 
and made up my mind that someday / was going to 
look back and watch the earth shrinking behind me. 
I'd made models of famous spaceships, and put rocket 
units in some of them until the neighbors raised a 
fuss. In my room I have hundreds of photographs, 
not only of most of the ships you care to name, but 
all the important places on the planets as well. 

Mom and Pop had not minded this interest, but they 
thought it was something I'd grow out of. "Look at 
Joe Donovan," they'd say. (Joe's the chap who runs 



Jackpot to Space 



7 



the 'copter repair depot in our district. ) "He was going 
to be a Martian colonist when he was your age. Earth 
wasn't good enough for him! Well, he's never been 
as far as the moon, and I don't suppose he ever will. 
He's quite happy here." But I wasn't so sure. I've seen 
Joe looking up at the sky as the outgoing rockets draw 
their white vapor trails through the stratosphere, and 
sometimes I think he'd give everything he owns to 
go with them. 

Uncle Jim (that's Pop's brother) was the one who 
really understood how I felt about things. He'd been 
to Mars two or three times, to Venus once, and to 
the moon so often he couldn't count the times. He 
had the kind of job where people actually paid him 
to do these things. I'm afraid he was considered a 
very disturbing influence around our house. 

It was about a week after I won the contest that 
I heard from World Airways. They were very polite, 
in an icy sort of way, and said that they'd agreed 
that the terms of the competition allowed me to go 
to the Inner Station. (They couldn't help adding 
their disappointment that I hadn't chosen to go on 
one of their luxury flights inside the atmosphere. 
Uncle Jim said what really upset them was the fact 
that my choice would cost at least ten times as much 
as they'd bargained for.) There were, however, two 
conditions. First, I had to get my parents' consent. 
Second, I would have to pass the standard medical 
tests for space crew. 



8 



Islands in the Sky 



I'll say this about Mom and Pop— though they were 
still pretty mad, they wouldn't stand in my way. After 
all, space travel was safe enough, and I was only going 
a few hundred miles up— scarcely any distance! So 
after a little argument they signed the forms and sent 
them off. I'm pretty sure that World Airways had 
hoped they'd refuse to let me go. 

That left the second obstacle, the medical exam. 
I didn't think it was fair having to take that: from 
all accounts it was pretty tough, and if I failed, no 
one would be more pleased than World Airways. 

The nearest place where I could take the tests was 
the Department of Space Medicine at Johns Hopkins, 
which meant an hour's flying in the Kansas- Washing- 
ton jet and a couple of short 'copter trips at either 
end. Though I'd made dozens of longer journeys, I 
was so excited that it seemed like a new experience. 
In a way, of course, it was, because if everything went 
properly it would open up a new chapter in my life. 

I'd got everything ready the night before, even 
though I was going to be away from home for only 
a few hours. It was a fine evening, so I carried my 
little telescope out of doors to have a look at the stars. 
It's not much of an instrument-just a couple of lenses 
in a wooden tube— but I'd made it myself and was 
quite proud of it. When the moon was half-full, it 
would show all the bigger lunar mountains, as well 
as Saturn's rings and the moons of Jupiter. 

But tonight I was after something else, something 



JackpDl to Space 



9 



not so easy to find. I knew its approximate orbit, be- 
cause our local astronomer's club had worked out the 
figures for me. So I set up the telescope as carefully 
as I could and slowly began to sweep across the stars 
to the southwest, checking against the map I'd already 
prepared. 

The search took about fifteen minutes. In the field 
of the telescope was a handful of stars— and some- 
thing that was not a star. I could just make out a 
tiny oval shape, far too small to show any details. 
It shone brilliantly up there in the blazing sunlight 
outside the shadow of the earth, and it was moving 
even as I watched. An astronomer of a century before 
would have been sorely puzzled by it, for it was some- 
thing new in the sky. It was Met Station Two, six 
thousand miles up and circling the earth four times 
a day. The Inner Station was too far to the south 
to be visible from my latitude: you had to live near 
the Equator to see it shining in the sky, the bright- 
est and most swiftly moving of all the "stars." 

I tried to imagine what it was like up there in that 
floating bubble, with the emptiness of space all 
around. At this very moment, the scientists aboard 
must be looking down at me just as I was looking up 
at them. I wondered what kind of life they led— and 
remembered that with any luck I'd soon know for 
myself. 

The bright, tiny disk I had been watching suddenly 
turned orange, then red, and began to fade from sight 



10 



Islands in the Sky 



like a dying ember. In a few seconds it had vanished 
completely, though the stars were still shining as 
brightly as ever in the field of the telescope. Met 
Station Two had raced into the shadow of the earth 
and would remain eclipsed until it emerged again, 
about an hour later, in the southeast. It was "night" 
aboard the Space Station, just as it was down here on 
earth. I packed up the telescope and went to bed. 

East of Kansas City, where I went aboard the Wash- 
ington jet, the land is flat for five hundred miles until 
you reach the Appalachians. A century earlier I 
should have been flying over millions of acres of farm 
land, but that had all vanished when agriculture 
moved out to sea at the end of the twentieth century. 
Now the ancient prairies were coming back, and with 
them the great buffalo herds that had roamed this 
land when the Indians were its only masters. The main 
industrial cities and mining centers hadn't changed 
much, but the smaller towns had vanished and in a 
few more years there would be no sign that they had 
ever existed. 

I think I was a lot more nervous when I went up the 
wide marble steps of the Department of Space Medi- 
cine than when I entered the final round of the World 
Airways Contest. If I'd failed that, I might have had 
another chance later— but if the doctors said "no," then 
I'd never be able to go out into space. 

There were two kinds of tests, the physical and the 



Jackpot to Space 



11 



psychological. I had to do all sorts of silly things, like 
running on a treadmill while holding my breath, try- 
ing to hear very faint sounds in a noiseproof room, and 
identifying dim, colored lights. At one point they am- 
plified my heartbeat thousands of times: it was an 
eerie sound and gave me the creeps, but the doctors 
said it was O.K. 

They seemed a very friendly crowd, and after a 
while I got the definite impression that they were on 
my side and doing their best to get me through. Of 
course, that helped a lot and I began to think it was all 
good fun— almost a game, in fact. 

I changed my mind after a test in which they sat me 
inside a box and spun it round in every possible direc- 
tion. When I came out I was horribly sick and couldn't 
stand upright. That was the worst moment I had, be- 
cause I was sure I'd failed. But it was really all right: 
if I hadn't been sick there would have been something 
wrong with me! 

After all this they let me rest for an hour before the 
psychological tests. I wasn't worried much about 
those, as I'd met them before. There were some simple 
jigsaw puzzles, a few sheets of questions to be an- 
swered ("Four of the following five words have some- 
thing in common. Underline them.") and some tests 
for quickness of eye and hand. Finally they attached a 
lot of wires to my head and took me into a narrow, 
darkened corridor with a closed door ahead of me. 

"Now listen carefully, Roy," said the psychologist 



12 



Islands in the Sky 



who'd been doing the tests. "I'm going to leave you 
now, and the lights will go out. Stand here until you 
receive further instructions, and then do exactly what 
you're told. Don't worry about these wires. They will 
follow you when you move. O.K.?" 

"Yes," I said, wondering what was going to happen 
next. 

The lights dimmed, and for a minute I was in com- 
plete darkness. Then a very faint rectangle of red light 
appeared, and I knew that the door ahead of me was 
opening, though I couldn't hear a sound. I tried to see 
what was beyond the door, but the light was too dim. 

I knew the wires that had been attached to my head 
were recording my brain impulses. So whatever hap- 
pened, I would try to keep calm and collected. 

A voice came out of the darkness from a hidden 
loud-speaker. 

"Walk through the door you see ahead of you, and 
stop as soon as you have passed it." 

I obeyed the order, though it wasn't easy to walk 
straight in that faint light, with a tangle of wires trail- 
ing behind me. 

I never heard the door shutting, but I knew some- 
how that it had closed, and when I reached back with 
my hand I found I was standing in front of a smooth 
sheet of plastic. It was completely dark now; even the 
dim red light had gone. 

It seemed a long time before anything happened. I 
must have been standing there in the darkness for al- 



Jackpot to Space 



13 



most ten minutes, waiting for the next order. Once or 
twice I whistled softly, to see if there was any echo by 
which I could judge the size of the room. Though I 
couldn't be sure, I got the impression that it was quite 
a large place. 

Then, without any warning, the lights came on, not 
in a sudden flash, which would have blinded me, but in 
a very quick build-up that took only two or three 
seconds. I was able to see my surroundings perfectly, 
and I'm not ashamed to say that I yelled. 

It was a perfectly normal room, except for one thing. 
There was a table with some papers lying on it, three 
armchairs, bookcases against one wall, a small desk, 
an ordinary TV set. The sun seemed to be shining 
through the window, and some curtains were waving 
slightly in the breeze. At the moment the lights came 
on, the door opened and a man walked in. He picked 
up a paper from the table, and flopped down in one of 
the chairs. He was just beginning to read when he 
looked up and saw me. And when I say "up," I mean it. 
For that's what was wrong with the room. I wasn't 
standing on the floor, down there with the chairs and 
bookcases. I was fifteen feet up in the air, scared out 
of my wits and flattened against the "ceiling," with 
no means of support and nothing within reach to 
catch hold of! I clawed at the smooth surface behind 
me, but it was as flat as glass. There was no way to 
stop myself from falling, and the floor looked very hard 
and a long way down. 



Chapter 2 Good-by to Gravity 



I he fall never came, and my moment of panic passed 
swiftly. The whole thing was an illusion of some 
kind, for the floor felt firm beneath my feet, what- 
ever my eyes told me. I stopped clutching at the 
door through which I had entered, the door which my 
eyes tried to convince me was part of the ceiling. 

Of course, it was absurdly simple! The room I 
seemed to be looking down at was really seen reflected 
in a large mirror immediately in front of me, a mirror 
at an angle of forty-five degrees to the vertical. I was 
actually standing in the upper part of a tall room that 
was "bent" horizontally through a right angle, but be- 
cause of the mirror there was no way of telling this. 

I went down on my hands and knees and cautiously 
edged my way forward. It took a lot of will power to 
u 



Gcod-by to Gravity 



15 



do this, for my eyes still told me that I was crawling 
headfirst down the side of a vertical wall. After a few 
feet, I came to a sudden drop and peered over the 
edge. There below me, really below me this time, was 
the room into which I had been looking! The man in 
the armchair was grinning up at me as if to say, "We 
gave you quite a shock, didn't we?" I could see him 
equally well, of course, by looking at his reflection in 
the mirror straight ahead of me. 

The door behind me opened and the psychologist 
came in. He was carrying a long strip of paper in his 
hand, and he chuckled as he waved it at me. 

"We've got all your reactions on the tape, Roy," he 
said. "Do you know what this test was for?" 

"I think I can guess," I said, a little ruefully. "Is it to 
discover how I behave when gravity is wrong?" 

"That's the idea. It's what we call an orientation test. 
In space you won't have any gravity at all, and some 
people are never able to get used to it. This test 
eliminates most of them." 

I hoped it wouldn't eliminate me, and I spent a very 
uncomfortable half-hour waiting for the doctors to 
make up their minds. But I needn't have worried. As I 
said before, they were on my side and were just as de- 
termined to get me through as I was myself. 

The New Guinea mountains, just south of the 
Equator and rising in places more than three miles 
above sea level, must once have been about the wildest 



16 



Islands in the Sky 



and most inaccessible spots on earth. Although the 
helicopter had made them as easy to reach as any- 
where else, it was not until the twenty-first century that 
they became important as the world's main spring- 
board into space. 

There are three good reasons for this. First of all, the 
fact that they are so near the Equator means that, 
because of the earth's spin, they're moving from west 
to east at a thousand miles an hour. That's quite a use- 
ful start for a ship on its way out to space. Their height 
means that all the denser layers of the atmosphere are 
below them, thus the air resistance is reduced and the 
rockets can work more efficiently. And perhaps most 
important of all is the fact that there are ten thousand 
miles of open Pacific stretching away from them to the 
east. You can't launch spaceships from inhabited areas, 
because apart from the danger if anything goes wrong, 
the unbelievable noise of an ascending ship would 
deafen everyone for miles around. 

Port Goddard is on a great plateau, leveled by 
atomic blasting, almost two and a half miles up. There 
is no way to reach it by land— everything comes in by 
air. It is the meeting place for ships of the atmosphere 
and ships of space. 

When I first saw it from our approaching jet, it 
looked like a tiny white rectangle among the moun- 
tains. Great valleys packed with tropical forests 
stretched as far as one could see. In some of those 
valleys, I was told, there are still savage tribes that no 



Good-by fo Gravity 



17 



one has ever contacted. I wonder what they thought of 
the monsters flying above their heads and filling the 
sky with their roaring! 

The small amount of luggage I had been allowed to 
take had been sent on ahead of me, and I wouldn't see 
it again until I reached the Inner Station. When I 
stepped out of the jet into the cold, clear air of Port 
Goddard, I already felt so far above sea level that I 
automatically looked up into the sky to see if I could 
find my destination. But I wasn't allowed time for the 
search. The reporters were waiting for me, and I had 
to go in front of the cameras again. 

I haven't any idea what I said, and fortunately one 
of the port officials soon rescued me. There were the 
inevitable forms to be filled. I was weighed very care- 
fully and given some pills to swallow ( they made sure 
that I did too), and then we climbed aboard a little 
truck that would take us out to the launching site. I 
was the only passenger on this trip, as the rocket on 
which I was traveling was really a freighter. 

Most spaceships, naturally enough, have astro- 
nomical names. I was flying on the Sirius, and though 
she was one of the smaller ships, she looked impressive 
enough as we came up to her. She had already been 
raised in her supporting cradle so that her prow pointed 
vertically at the sky, and she seemed to be balanced on 
the great triangles of her wings. These would come 
into action only when she glided back into the atmos- 
phere on her return to earth; at the moment they 



18 



Islands in the Sky 



served merely as supports for the four huge fuel tanks, 
like giant bombs, which would be jettisoned as soon 
as the motors had drained them dry. These streamlined 
tanks were nearly as large as the ship's hull itself. 

The servicing gantry was still in position, and as I 
stepped into the elevator I realized for the first time 
that I had now cut myself off from earth. A motor be- 
gan to whine, and the metal walls of the Sirius slid 
swiftly past. My view of Port Goddard widened. Now 
I could see all the administrative buildings clustering 
at the edge of the plateau, the great fuel storage tanks, 
the strange machinery of the liquid ozone plant, the 
airfield with its everyday jets and helicopters. And 
beyond all these, quite unchanged by everything that 
man had done, the eternal mountains and forests. 

The elevator came gently to a halt, and the gates 
opened on to a short gangway leading into the Sirius. 
I walked across it, through the open seals of the air 
lock, and the brilliant tropical sunlight gave way to the 
cold electric glare of the ship's control room. 

The pilot was already in his seat, going through the 
routine checks. He swiveled round as I entered and 
gave me a cheerful grin. 

"So you're the famous Roy Malcolm, are you? I'll 
try and get you to the station in one piece. Have you 
flown in a rocket before?" 

"No," I replied. 

"Then don't worry. It's not as bad as some people 
pretend. Make yourself comfortable in that seat, fasten 



Good-fay io Gravity 19 

the straps, and just relax. We've still got twenty 
minutes before take-off." 

I climbed into the pneumatic couch, but it wasn't 
easy to relax. I don't think I was frightened, but I was 
certainly excited. After all these years of dreaming, I 
was really aboard a spaceship at last! In a few minutes, 
more than a hundred million horsepower would be 
hurtling me up into the sky. 

I let my eyes roam around the control cabin. Most of 
its contents were quite familiar from photographs and 
films, and I knew what all the instruments were sup- 
posed to do. The control panel of a spaceship is not 
really very complicated because so much is done 
automatically. 

The pilot was talking to the Port Control Tower over 
the radio, as they went through the pre-take-off routine 
together. Every so often a time-check broke through 
the conversations: "Minus fifteen minutes . . . Minus 
ten minutes . . . Minus five minutes." Though I'd heard 
this sort of thing so often before, it never fails to give 
me a thrill. And this time I wasn't watching it on TV— 
I was in the middle of it myself. 

At last the pilot said "Over to Automatic" and threw 
a large red switch. He gave a sigh of relief, stretched 
his arms, and leaned back in his seat. 

"That's always a nice feeling," he said. "No more 
work for the next hour!" 

He didn't really mean that, of course. Although the 
robot controls would handle the ship from now on, he 



20 



Islands in the Sky 



still had to see that everything was going according to 
plan. In an emergency, or if the robot pilot made an 
error, he would have to take over again. 

The ship began to vibrate as the fuel pumps started 
to spin. A complicated pattern of intersecting lines had 
appeared on the TV screen, having something to do, I 
supposed, with the course the rocket was to follow. A 
row of tiny lights changed, one after another, from red 
to green. As the last light turned color, the pilot called 
to me swiftly, "Make sure you're lying quite flat." 

I snuggled down into the couch and then, without 
any warning, felt as if someone had jumped on top of 
me. There was a tremendous roaring in my ears, and I 
seemed to weigh a ton. It required a definite effort to 
breathe; this was no longer something you could leave 
to your lungs and forget all about. 

The feeling of discomfort lasted only a few sec- 
onds, then I grew accustomed to it. The ship's own 
motors had not yet started, and we were climbing 
under the thrust of the booster rockets, which would 
burn out and drop away after thirty seconds, when we 
were already many miles above the earth. 

I could tell when this time came by the sudden 
slackening of weight. It lasted only a moment, then 
there was a subtly changed roaring as our own rockets 
started to fire. They would keep up their thunder for 
another five minutes. At the end of that time, we would 



Good-by to Gravity 



21 



be moving so swiftly that the earth could never drag 
us back. 

The thrust of the rockets was now giving me more 
than three times my normal weight. As long as I stayed 
still, there was no real discomfort. As an experiment, 
I tried to see if I could raise my arm. It was very tiring, 
but not too difficult. Still, I was glad to let it drop back 
again. If necessary, I think I could have sat upright, 
but standing would have been quite impossible. 

On the TV screen, the pattern of bright lines seemed 
unaltered. Now, however, there was a tiny spot creep- 
ing slowly upward— representing, I supposed, the 
ascending ship. I watched it intently, wondering if the 
motors would cut out when the spot reached the top of 
the screen. 

Long before that happpened, there came a series of 
short explosions, and the ship shuddered slightly. For 
one anxious moment, I thought that something had 
gone wrong. Then I realized what had happened: our 
drop tanks had been emptied, and the bolts holding 
them on had been severed. They were falling back 
behind us, and presently would plunge into die Pacific, 
somewhere in the great empty wastes between Tahiti 
and South America. 

At last the thunder of the rockets began to lose its 
power, and the feeling of enormous weight ebbed 
away. The ship was easing itself into its final orbit, five 
hundred miles above the Equator. The motors had 



22 



Islands in the Sky 



done their work and were now merely making the last 
adjustments to our course. 

Silence returned as the rockets cut out completely. 
I could still feel the faint vibration of the fuel pumps 
as they idled to rest, but there was no sound whatso- 
ever in the little cabin. My ears had been partially 
numbed by the roar of the rockets, and it took some 
minutes before I could hear properly again. 

The pilot finished checking his instruments and then 
released himself from his seat. I watched him, fasci- 
nated, as he floated across to me. 

"It will take you some time to get used to this," he 
said, as he unbuckled my safety strap. "The thing to 
remember is— always move gently. And never let go of 
one handhold until you've decided on the next." 

Gingerly, I stood up. I grabbed the couch just in 
time to stop myself from zooming to the ceiling. Only, 
of course, it wasn't really the ceiling any more. "Up" 
and "down" had vanished completely. Weight had 
ceased to exist, and I had only to give myself a gentle 
push and move any way I wished. 

It's a strange thing, but even now there are people 
who don't understand this business of "weightless- 
ness." They seem to think it's something to do with 
being "outside the pull of gravity." That's nonsense, 
of course. In a space station or a coasting rocket five 
hundred miles up, gravity is nearly as powerful as it 
is down on the earth. The reason why you feel weight- 
less is not because you're outside gravity, but because 



Good-by to Gravity 



23 



you're no longer resisting its pull. You could feel 
weightless, even down on earth, inside a freely falling 
elevator— as long as the fall lasted. An orbiting space 
station or rocket is in a kind of permanent fall— a "fall" 
that can last forever because it isn't toward the earth 
but around it. 

"Careful, now!" warned the pilot. "I don't want you 
cracking your head against my instrument panel! If 
you want to have a look out of the window, hang on to 
this strap." I obeyed him, and peered through the 
little porthole, whose thick plastic was all that lay 
between me and nothingness. 

Yes, I know that there have been so many films and 
photographs that everyone knows just what earth looks 
like from space. So I won't waste much time describing 
it. And to tell the truth, there wasn't a great deal to 
see, as my field of view was almost entirely filled by 
the Pacific Ocean. Beneath me it was a surprisingly 
deep azure, which softened into a misty blue at the 
limits of vision. I asked the pilot how far away the 
horizon was. 

"About two thousand miles," he replied. "You can 
see most of the way down to New Zealand and up to 
Hawaii. Quite a view, isn't it?" 

Now that I had grown accustomed to the scale, I 
was able to pick out some of the Pacific islands, many 
showing their coral reefs quite clearly. A long way 
toward what I imagined was the west, the color of the 
ocean changed quite abruptly from blue to a vivid 



24 



Islands in the Sky 



green. I realized I was looking at the enormous float- 
ing sea-farms that fed the continent of Asia, and which 
now covered a substantial part of all the oceans in 
the tropics. 

The coast of South America was coming into sight 
when the pilot began to prepare for the landing on the 
Inner Station. (I know the word "landing" sounds 
peculiar, but it's the expression that's used. Out in 
space, many ordinary words have quite different mean- 
ings. ) I was still staring out of the little porthole when 
I got the order to go back to my seat, so that I wouldn't 
fall around the cabin during the final maneuvers. 

The TV screen was now a black rectangle, with a 
tiny double star shining near its center. We were about 
a hundred miles away from the station, slowly over- 
hauling it. The two stars grew brighter and farther 
apart: additional faint satellites appeared sprinkled 
around them. I knew I was seeing the ships that were 
"in dock" at the moment, being refueled or overhauled. 

Suddenly one of those faint stars burst into blazing 
light. A hundred miles ahead of us, one of the ships in 
that little fleet had started its motors and was pulling 
away from earth. I questioned the pilot. 

"That would be the Alpha Centauri, bound for 
Venus," he replied. "She's a wonderful old wreck, but 
it's really time they pensioned her off. Now let me get 
on with my navigating. This is one job the robots 
can't do." 

The Inner Station was only a few miles away when 



Good-by to Gravity 



25 



we started to put on the brakes. There was a high- 
pitched whistling from the steering jets in the nose, 
and for a moment a feeble sensation of weight re- 
turned. It lasted only a few seconds; then we had 
matched speeds and joined the station's other floating 
satellites. 

Being careful to ask the pilot's permission, I got out 
of my couch and went to the window again. The earth 
was now on the other side of the ship, and I was look- 
ing out at the stars and the Space Station. It was such 
a staggering sight that I had to stare for a minute 
before it made any sense at all. I understood, now, the 
purpose of that orientation test the doctors had given 
me. 

My first impression of the Inner Station was one of 
complete chaos. Floating there in space about a mile 
away from our ship was a great open latticework of 
spidery girders, in the shape of a flat disk. Here and 
there on its surface were spherical buildings of varying 
sizes, connected to each other by tubes wide enough 
for men to travel through. In the center of the disk was 
the largest sphere of all, dotted with the tiny eyes of 
portholes and with dozens of radio antennae jutting 
from it in all directions. 

Several spaceships, some almost completely dis- 
mantled, were attached to the great disk at various 
points. They looked, I thought, very much like flies 
caught in a spiderweb. Men in space suits were work- 



Islands in the Sky 



ing on them, and sometimes the glare of a welding 
torch would dazzle my eyes. 

Other ships were floating freely, arranged in no 
particular system that I could discover, in the space 
around the station. Some of them were streamlined, 
winged vessels like the one that had brought me up 
from earth. Others were the true ships of space- 
assembled here outside the atmosphere and designed 
to ferry loads from world to world without ever land- 
ing on any planet. They were weird, flimsy construc- 
tions, usually with a pressurized spherical chamber for 
the crew and passengers, and larger tanks for the fuel. 
There was no streamlining of course: the cabins, fuel 
tanks and motors were simply linked together by thin 
struts. As I looked at these ships I couldn't help think- 
ing of some very old magazines I'd once seen which 
showed our grandfather's ideas of spaceships. They 
were all sleek, finned projectiles looking rather like 
bombs. The artists who drew those pictures would 
have been shocked by the reality: in fact, they would 
probably not have recognized these queer objects as 
spaceships at all. 

I was wondering how we were going to get aboard 
the station when something came sweeping into my 
field of vision. It was a tiny cylinder, just big enough 
to hold a man— and it did hold a man, for I could see 
his head through the plastic panels covering one end 
of the device. Long, jointed arms projected from the 
machine's body, and it was trailing a thin cable behind 



Good-by 1o Gravity 



27 



it. I could just make out the faint, misty jet of the tiny 
rocket motor which propelled this miniature space- 
ship. 

The operator must have seen me staring out at him, 
for he grinned back as he flashed by. A minute later 
there came an alarming "clang" from the hull of our 
ship. The pilot laughed at my obvious fright. 

"That's only the towing cable being coupled. It's 
magnetic, you know. We'll start to move in a minute." 

There was the feeblest of tugs, and our ship slowly 
rotated until it was parallel to the great disk of the 
station. The cable had been attached amidships, and 
the station was hauling us in like an angler landing a 
fish. The pilot pressed the button on the control panel, 
and there was the whining of motors as our under- 
carriage lowered itself. That was not something you'd 
expect to see used in space, but the idea was sensible 
enough. The shock absorbers were just the thing to 
take up the gentle impact on making contact with the 
station. 

We were wound in so slowly that it took almost ten 
minutes to make the short journey. Then there was a 
slight jar as we "touched down," and the journey was 
over. 

"Well," grinned the pilot, "I hope you enjoyed the 
trip. Or would you have liked some excitement?" 

I looked at him cautiously, wondering if he was 
pulling my leg. 



28 



Islands in the Sky 



"It was quite exciting enough, thank you. What 
other sort of excitement could you supply?" 

"Well, what about a few meteors, an attack by 
pirates, an invasion from outer space, or all the other 
things you read about in the fiction magazines?" 

"1 only read the serious books, like Richardson's In- 
troduction to Astronautics, or Maxwell's Modern 
Spaceships— not magazine stories." 

"I don't believe you," he replied promptly. "I read 
em, anyway, and I'm sure you do. You can't fool me." 

He was right, of course. It was one of the first 
lessons I learned on the station. All the people out 
there have been hand-picked for intelligence as well 
as technical knowledge. If you weren't on the level, 
they'd spot it right away. 

I was wondering how we were going to get out of 
the ship when there was a series of hangings and 
scrapings from the air lock, followed a moment later 
by an alarming hiss of air. It slowly died away, and 
presently, with a soft sucking noise, the inner door of 
the lock swung open. 

"Remember what I told you about moving slowly," 
said the pilot, gathering up his log book. "The best 
thing is for you to hitch on to my belt and I'll tow you. 
Ready?" 

I couldn't help thinking it wasn't a very dignified 
entry into the station. But it was safest to take no risks, 
so that was the way I traveled through the flexible, 
pressurized coupling that had been clamped on to the 



Good-by to Gravity 



29 



side of our ship. The pilot launched himself with a 
powerful kick, and I trailed along behind him. It was 
rather like learning to swim underwater, so much like 
it, in fact, that at first I had the panicky feeling that 
I'd drown if I tried to breathe. 

Presently we emerged into a wide metal tunnel, 
one of the station's main passageways, I guessed. 
Cables and pipes ran along the walls, and at intervals 
we passed through great double doors with red 
EMERGENCY notices painted on them. I didn't think 
this was at all reassuring. We met only two people on 
our journey. They flashed by us with an effortless ease 
that filled me with envy, and made me determined to 
be just as skillful before I left the station. 

"I'm taking you to Commander Doyle," the pilot 
explained to me. "He's in charge of training here and 
will be keeping an eye on you." 

"What sort of man is he?" I asked anxiously. 

"Don't you worry— you'll find out soon enough. Here 
we are." 

We drifted to a halt in front of a circular door carry- 
ing the notice: "Cdr. R. Doyle, i/c Training. Knock 
and Enter." The pilot knocked and entered, still tow- 
ing me behind him like a sack of potatoes. 

I heard him say: "Captain Jones reporting, Mr. 
Doyle— with passenger." Then he shoved me in front 
of him and I saw the man he had been addressing. 

He was sitting at a perfectly ordinary office desk, 
which was rather surprising in this place where noth- 



30 



Islands in the Sky 



ing else seemed normal. And he looked like a prize 
fighter. I think he was the most powerfully built man 
I'd ever seen. Two huge arms covered most of the 
desk in front of him, and I wondered where he found 
clothes to fit, for his shoulders must have been over 
four feet across. 

At first I didn't see his face clearly, for he was bend- 
ing over some papers. Then he looked up, and I found 
myself staring at a huge red beard and two enormous 
eyebrows. It was some time before I really took in the 
rest of the face. It is so unusual to see a real beard 
nowadays that I couldn't help staring at it. Then I 
realized that Commander Doyle must have had some 
kind of accident, for there was a faint scar running 
diagonally right across his forehead. Considering how 
skilled our plastic surgeons are nowadays, the fact that 
it was still visible meant that the original injury must 
have been very serious. 

Altogether, as you'll probably have gathered, Com- 
mander Doyle wasn't a very handsome man. But he 
was certainly a striking one, and my biggest surprise 
was still to come. 

"So you're young Malcolm, eh?" he said, in a pleas- 
ant, quiet voice that wasn't half as fearsome as his 
appearance. "We've heard a great deal about you. 
O.K., Captain Jones— I'll take charge of him now." 

The pilot saluted and glided away. For the next ten 
minutes Commander Doyle questioned me closely, 
building up a picture of my life and interests. I told 



Good-by fo Gravity 



31 



him I'd been born in New Zealand and had lived for 
a few years in China, South Africa, Brazil and Switzer- 
land, as my father— who is a journalist— moved from 
one job to another. We'd gone to Missouri because 
Mom was fed up with mountains and wanted a change. 
As families go these days, we hadn't traveled a great 
deal, and I'd never visited half the places all our 
neighbors seemed to know. Perhaps that was one 
reason why I wanted to go out into space. 

When he had finished writing all this down, and 
adding many notes that I'd have given a good deal to 
read, Commander Doyle laid aside the old-fashioned 
fountain pen he was using and stared at me for a 
minute as if I was some peculiar animal. He drummed 
thoughtfully on the desk with his huge fingers, which 
looked as if they could tear their way through the ma- 
terial without much trouble. I was feeling a bit scared, 
and to make matters worse I'd drifted away from the 
floor and was floating helplessly in mid-air again. 
There was no way I could move anywhere unless I 
made myself ridiculous by trying to swim, which might 
or might not work. Then the commander gave a 
chuckle, and his face crinkled up into a vast grin. 

"I think this may be quite amusing," he said. While 
I was still wondering if I dared to ask why, he con- 
tinued, after glancing at some charts on the wall be- 
hind him: "Afternoon classes have just stopped. I'll 
take you to meet the boys." Then he grabbed a long 
metal tube that must have been slung underneath the 



32 



Islands in the Sky 



desk, and launched himself out of his chair with a 
single jerk of his huge left arm. 

He moved so quickly that it took me completely by 
surprise. A moment later I just managed to stifle a gasp 
of amazement. For as he moved clear of the desk, I 
saw that Commander Doyle had no legs. 

When you go to a new school or move into a strange 
district, there's always a confusing period so full of 
new experiences that you can never recall it clearly. 
My first day on the Space Station was like that. So 
much had never happened to me before in such a short 
time. It was not merely that I was meeting a lot of new 
people. I had to learn how to live all over again. 

At first I felt as helpless as a baby. I couldn't judge 
the effort needed to make any movement. Although 
weight had vanished, momentum remained. It re- 
quired force to start something moving, and more 
force to stop it again. That was where the broom- 
sticks came in. 

Commander Doyle had invented them, and the 
name, of course, came from the old idea that once upon 
a time witches used to ride on broomsticks. We cer- 
tainly rode around the station on ours. They consisted 
of one hollow tube sliding inside another. The two 
were connected by a powerful spring, one tube ending 
in a hook, the other in a wide rubber pad. That was all 
there was to it. If you wanted to move, you put the 



Good-by to Gravity 



33 



pad against the nearest wall and shoved. The recoil 
launched you into space, and when you arrived at your 
destination you let the spring absorb your velocity and 
so bring you to rest. Trying to stop yourself with your 
bare hands was liable to result in sprained wrists. 

It wasn't quite as easy as it sounds, though, for if 
you weren't careful you could bounce right back the 
way you'd come. 

It was a long time before I discovered what had 
happened to the commander. The scar he'd picked up 
in an ordinary motor crash when he was a young man, 
but the more serious accident was a different story, 
having occurred when he was on the first expedition to 
Mercury. He'd been quite an athlete, it seemed, so the 
loss of his legs must have been an even bigger blow 
to him than to most men. It was obvious why he had 
come to the station; it was the only place where he 
wouldn't be a cripple. Indeed, thanks to his powerfully 
developed arms, he was probably the most agile man in 
the station. He had lived here for the last ten years 
and would never return to earth, where he would be 
helpless again. He wouldn't even go over to any of the 
other space stations where they had gravity, and no 
one was ever tactless or foolish enough to suggest such 
a trip to him. 

There were about a hundred people on board the 
Inner Station, ten of them apprentices a few years 
older than myself. At first they were a bit fed up at 



34 



Islands in the Sky 



having me around, but after I'd had my fight with 
Ronnie Jordan everything was O.K., and they accepted 
me as one of the family. I'll tell you about that later. 

The senior apprentice was a tall, quiet Canadian 
named Tim Benton. He never said much, but when he 
did speak everyone took notice. It was Tim who really 
taught me my way around the Inner Station, after 
Commander Doyle had handed me over to him with 
a few words of explanation. 

"I suppose you know what we do up here?" he said 
doubtfully when the commander had left us. 

"You refuel spaceships on their way out from earth, 
and carry out repairs and overhauls." 

"Yes, that's our main job. The other stations— those 
farther out— have many other duties, but we needn't 
bother about that now. There's one important point 
I'd better make clear right away. This Inner Station of 
ours is really in two parts, with a couple of miles be- 
tween them. Come and have a look." 

He pulled me over to a port and I stared out into 
space. Hanging there against the stars, so close that it 
seemed I could reach out and touch it, was what 
seemed to be a giant flywheel. It was slowly turning 
on its axis, and as it revolved I could see the glitter of 
sunlight on its observation ports. I could not help com- 
paring its smooth compactness with the flimsy, open 
girder work of the station in which I was standing— 
or, rather, floating. The great wheel had an axle, for 
jutting from its center was a long, narrow cylinder 



Good-by to Gravity 



35 



which ended in a curious structure I couldn't under- 
stand. A spaceship was slowly maneuvering near it. 

"That's the Residential Station," said Benton dis- 
approvingly. "It's nothing but a hotel. You've noticed 
that it's spinning. Because of that, it's got normal earth 
gravity at the rim, owing to centrifugal force. We 
seldom go over there; once you've got used to weight- 
lessness, gravity's a nuisance. But all incoming pas- 
sengers from Mars and the moon are transshipped 
there. It wouldn't be safe for them to go straight to 
earth after living in a much lower gravity field. In the 
Residential Station they can get acclimatized, as it 
were. They go in at the center, where there's no grav- 
ity, and work slowly out to the rim, where it's earth 
normal." 

"How do they get aboard if the thing's spinning?" 
I asked. 

"See that ship moving into position? If you look 
carefully, you'll see that the axle of the station isn't 
spinning; it's being driven by a motor against the 
station's spin so that it actually stands still in space. 
The ship can couple up to it and transfer passengers. 
The coupling's free to rotate, and once the axle revs up 
to match speed with the station, the passengers can go 
aboard. Sounds complicated, but it works well. And 
see if you can think of a better way!" 

"Will I have a chance to go over there?" I asked. 

"I expect it could be arranged— though I don't see 



36 



Islands in the Sky 



much point in it. You might just as well be down on 
earth. That's the idea of the place, in fact." 

I didn't press the point, and it wasn't until the very 
end of my visit that I was able to get over to the Resi- 
dential Station, floating there only a couple of miles 
away. 

It must have been quite a bother showing me 
around the station, because I had to be pushed or 
pulled most of the way until I'd found my "space legs." 
Once or twice Tim just managed to rescue me in time 
when I'd launched myself too vigorously and was 
about to plunge headlong into an obstacle. But he was 
very patient, and finally I got the knack of things and 
was able to move around fairly confidently. 

It was several days before I really knew my way 
around the great maze of interconnecting corridors 
and pressure chambers that was the Inner Station. In 
that first trip I merely had a quick survey of its work- 
shops, radio equipment, power plant, air-conditioning 
gear, dormitories, storage tanks and observatory. 
Sometimes it was hard to believe that all this had been 
carried up into space and assembled here five hundred 
miles above the earth. I didn't know, until Tim men- 
tioned it casually, that most of the material in the 
station had actually come from the moon. The moon's 
low gravity made it much more economical to ship 
equipment from there instead of from the earth, de- 
spite the fact that earth was so much closer. 

My first tour of inspection ended inside one of the 



Good-by to Gravity 



37 



air locks. We stood in front of the great circular door, 
resting snugly on its rubber gaskets, which led into the 
outer emptiness. Clamped to the walls around us were 
the space suits, and I looked at them longingly. It had 
always been one of my ambitions to wear one and to 
become a tiny, self-contained world of my own. 

"Do you think I'll have a chance of trying one on 
while I'm here?" I asked. 

Tim looked thoughtful; then he glanced at his 
watch. 

"I'm not on duty for half an hour, and I want to 
collect something I've left out at the rim. We'll go 
outside." 

"But ..." I gulped, my enthusiasm suddenly waning. 
"Will it be safe? Doesn't it take a lot of training to use 
one of these?" 

He looked at me calmly. "Not frightened, are you?" 

"Of course not." 

"Well, let's get started." 

Tim answered my question while he was showing 
me how to get into the suit. 

"It's quite true that it takes a lot of training before 
you can operate one of these. I'm not going to let you 
try. You sit tight inside and tag along with me. You'll 
be as safe there as you are now, as long as you don't 
meddle with the controls. Just to make sure, I'll lock 
them first." 

I rather resented this, but didn't say anything. After 
all, he was the boss. 



38 



Islands in the Sky 



To most people, the word "space suit" conjures up a 
picture of something like a diving dress, in which a 
man can walk and use his arms. Such suits are, of 
course, used on places like the moon. But on a space 
station, where there's no gravity, your legs aren't much 
use anyway, because outside you have to blow your- 
self round with tiny rocket units. 

For this reason, the lower part of the suit was simply 
a rigid cylinder. When I climbed inside it, I found that 
I could use my feet only to work some control pedals, 
which I was careful not to touch. There was a little 
seat, and a transparent dome covering the top of the 
cylinder gave me good visibility. I could use my hands 
and arms. Just below my chin there was a neat little 
control panel with a tiny keyboard and a few meters. 
If I wanted to handle anything outside, there were 
flexible sleeves through which I could push my arms. 
They ended in gloves which, although they seemed 
clumsy, enabled one to carry out quite delicate oper- 
ations. 

Tim threw some of the switches on my suit and 
clamped the transparent dome over my head. I felt 
rather like being inside a coffin with a view. Then he 
chose a suit for himself and attached it to mine by a 
thin nylon cord. 

The inner door of the air lock thudded shut behind 
us, and I could hear the vibration of the pumps as the 
air was sucked back into the station. The sleeves of 
my suit began to stiffen slightly. Tim called across at 



Good-by to Gravity 



39 



me, his voice distorted after passing through our hel- 
mets. 

"I won't switch on the radio yet. You should still be 
able to hear me. Listen to this." Then he went over to 
the familiar radio engineer's routine: "Testing, One, 
Two, Three, Four, Five . . ." 

Around "Five" his voice began to fade. When he'd 
reached "Nine" I couldn't hear a thing, though his lips 
were still moving. There was no longer enough air 
around us to carry sound. The silence was quite un- 
canny, and I was relieved when talk came through 
the loud-speaker in my suit. 

"I'm opening the outer door now. Don't make any 
movements— I'll do all that's necessary." 

In that eerie silence, the great door slowly opened 
inward. I was floating freely now, and I felt a faint 
"tug" as the last traces of air puffed out into space. A 
circle of stars was ahead of me, and I could just glimpse 
the misty rim of earth to one side. 

"Ready?" asked Tim. 

"O.K.," I said, hoping that the microphone wouldn't 
betray my nervousness. 

The towing line gave a tug as Tim switched on his 
jets, and we drifted out of the air lock. It was a terri- 
fying sensation, yet one I would not have missed for 
anything. Although, of course, the words "up" and 
"down" had no meaning here, it seemed to me as if I 
were floating out through a hole in a great metal wall, 
with the earth at an immense distance below. My rea- 



40 



Islands in the Sky 



son told me that I was perfectly safe, but all my 
instincts shouted, "You've a five-hundred-mile fall 
straight down beneath you!" 

Indeed, when the earth filled half the sky, it was 
hard not to think of it as "down." We were in sunlight 
at the moment, passing across Africa, and I could see 
Lake Victoria and the great forests of the Congo. What 
would Livingstone and Stanley have thought, I won- 
dered, if they had known that one day men would 
flash across the Dark Continent at 18,000 miles an 
hour? And the day of those great explorers was only- 
two hundred years behind us. It had been a crowded 
couple of centuries. . . . 

Though it was fascinating to look at earth, I found 
it was making me giddy, and so I swiveled round in my 
suit to concentrate on the station. Tim had now towed 
us well clear of it, and we were almost out among the 
halo of floating ships. I tried to forget about the earth, 
and now that I could no longer see it, it seemed natural 
enough to think of "down" as toward the station. 

This is a knack everyone has to learn in space. You're 
liable to get awfully confused unless you pretend that 
somewhere is down. The important thing is to choose 
the most convenient direction, according to whatever 
you happen to be doing at the moment. 

Tim had given us enough speed to make our little 
trip in a reasonable time, so he cut the jets and pointed 
out the sights as we drifted along. This bird's-eye view 
of the station completed the picture I'd already got 



Good-hy to Gravity 



41 



from my tour inside, and I began to feel that I was 
really learning my way about. 

The outer rim of the station was simply a flat web- 
work of girders trailing off into space. Here and there 
were large cylinders, pressurized workshops big 
enough to hold two or three men, and intended for any 
jobs that couldn't be handled in vacuum. 

A spaceship with most of its plating stripped off was 
floating near the edge of the station, secured from 
drifting away by a couple of cords that would hardly 
have supported a man on earth. Several mechanics 
wearing suits like our own were working on the hull. 
I wished I could overhear their conversation and find 
what they were doing, but we were on a different wave 
length. 

"I'm going to leave you here a minute," said Tim, 
unfastening the towing cord and clipping it to the 
nearest girder. "Don't do anything until I get back." 

I felt rather foolish, floating around like a captive 
balloon, and was glad that no one took any notice of 
me. While waiting, I experimented with the fingers of 
my suit and tried, unsuccessfully, to tie a simple knot 
in my towing cable. I found later that one could do this 
sort of thing, but it took practice. Certainly the men 
on the spaceship seemed to be handling their tools 
without any awkwardness, despite their gloves. 

Suddenly it began to grow dark. Until this moment, 
the station and the ships floating beside it had been 
bathed in brilliant light from a sun so fierce that I had 



42 



Islands in the Sky 



not dared to look anywhere near it. But now the sun 
was passing behind the earth as we hurtled across the 
night side of the planet. I turned my head, and there 
was a sight so splendid that it completely took away 
my breath. Earth was now a huge, black disk eclipsing 
the stars, but all along one edge was a glorious crescent 
of golden light, shrinking even as I watched. I was 
looking back upon the line of the sunset, stretching for 
a thousand miles across Africa. At its center was a great 
halo of dazzling gold, where a thin sliver of sun was 
still visible. It dwindled and vanished; the crimson 
afterglow of the sunset contracted swiftly along the 
horizon until it too disappeared. The whole thing 
lasted not more than two minutes, and the men work- 
ing around me took not the slightest notice of it. After 
all, in time one gets used even to the most wonderful 
sights, and the station circled the earth so swiftly that 
sunset occurred every hundred minutes. 

It was not completely dark, for the moon was half 
full, looking no brighter or closer than it did from earth. 
And the sky was so crowded with millions of stars, all 
shining without a trace of twinkling, that I wondered 
how anyone could ever have spoken of the "blackness" 
of space. 

I was so busy looking for the other planets ( and fail- 
ing to find them ) that I never noticed Tim's return un- 
til my towrope began to tug. Slowly we moved back 
toward the center of the station, in such utter silence 
that it hardly seemed real. I closed my eyes for a min- 



Good-by to Gravity 



43 



ute, but the scene hadn't changed when I opened 
them. There was the great black shield of earth— no, 
not quite black, for I could see the oceans glimmering 
in the moonlight. The same light made the slim girders 
around me gleam like the threads of a ghostly spider's 
web, a web sprinkled with myriads of stars. 

This was the moment when I really knew that I had 
reached space at last, and that nothing else could ever 
be the same again. 



Chapter 3 The Morning Star 



1 1 ow on Station Four, do you know what our biggest 
|\| trouble used to be?" asked Norman Powell. 
II "No," I replied, which was what I was supposed 
to say. 

"Mice," he exclaimed solemnly. "Believe it or not! 
Some of them got loose from the biology labs, and be- 
fore you knew where you were, they were all over the 
place." 

"I don't believe a word of it," interrupted Ronnie 
Jordan. 

"They were so small they could get into all the air 
shafts," continued Norman, unabashed. "You could 
hear them scuttling around happily whenever you put 

44 



The Morning Siar 



45 



your ear to the walls. There was no need for them to 
make holes— every room had half a dozen already pro- 
vided, and you can guess what they did to the ventila- 
tion. But we got them in the end, and do you know 
how we did it?" 

"You borrowed a couple of cats." 

Norman gave Ronnie a superior look. 

"That was tried, but cats don't like zero gravity. 
They were no good at all; the mice used to laugh at 
them. No; we used owls. You should have seen them 
fly! Their wings worked just as well as ever, of course, 
and they used to do the most fantastic things. It took 
them only a few months to get rid of the mice." 

He sighed. 

"The problem then, of course, was to get rid of the 
owls. We did this . . ." 

I never learned what happened next, for the rest of 
the gang decided they'd had enough of Norman's tall 
stories and everybody launched at him simultaneously. 
He disappeared in the middle of a slowly revolving 
sphere of bodies that drifted noisily around the cabin. 
Only Tim Benton, who never got mixed up in these 
vulgar brawls, remained quietly studying, which was 
what everybody else was supposed to be doing. 

Every day all the apprentices met in the classroom 
to hear a lecture by Commander Doyle or one of the 
station's technical officers. The commander had sug- 
gested that I attend these talks, and a suggestion from 
him was not very different from an order. He thought 



46 



Islands in the Sky 



that I might pick up some useful knowledge, which 
was true enough. I could understand about a quarter 
of what was said, and spent the rest of the time reading 
something from the station's library of ultra-light- 
weight books. 

After the classes there was a thirty-minute studj 
period, and from time to time some studying was 
actually done. These intervals were much more useful 
to me than the lessons themselves, for the boys were 
always talking about their jobs and the things they had 
seen in space. Some of them had been out here for two 
years, with only a few short trips down to earth. 

Of course, a lot of the tales they told me were, shall 
I say, slightly exaggerated. Norman Powell, our prize 
humorist, was always trying to pull my leg. At first I 
fell for some of his yarns, but later I learned to be more 
cautious. 

There were also, I'd discovered, some interesting 
tricks and practical jokes that could be played in 
space. One of the best involved nothing more com- 
plicated than an ordinary match. We were in the class- 
room one afternoon when Norman suddenly turned 
to me and said, "Do you know how to test the air to 
see if it's breathable?" 

"If it wasn't, I suppose you'd soon know," I re- 
plied. 

"Not at all— you might be knocked out too quickly 
to do anything about it. But there's a simple test which 
has been used on earth for ages, in mines and caves. 



The Morning Star 



47 



You just carry a flame ahead of you, and if it goes out- 
well, you go out too, as quickly as you can!" 

He fumbled in his pocket and extracted a box of 
matches. I was mildly surprised to see something so 
old-fashioned aboard the station. 

"In here, of course," Norman continued, "a flame 
will burn properly. But if the air was bad it would go 
out at once." 

He absent-mindedly struck the match on the box, 
and it burst into light. A flame formed around the 
head, and I leaned forward to look at it closely. It was 
a very odd flame, not long and pointed but quite 
spherical. Even as I watched, it dwindled and died. 

It's funny how the mind works, for up to that mo- 
ment I'd been breathing comfortably, yet now I 
seemed to be suffocating. I looked at Norman, and 
said nervously, "Try it again— there must be something 
wrong with the match." 

Obediently he struck another, which expired as 
quickly as the first. 

"Let's get out of here," I gasped. "The air purifier 
must have packed up." Then I saw that the others were 
grinning at me. 

"Don't panic, Roy," said Tim. "There's a simple an- 
swer." He grabbed the matchbox from Norman. 

"The air's perfectly O.K. But if you think about it, 
you'll see that it's impossible for a flame to burn out 
here. Since there's no gravity and everything stays put, 



48 



Islands in the Sky 



the smoke doesn't rise and the flame just chokes itself. 
The only way it will keep burning is if you do this." 

He struck another match, but instead of holding it 
still, kept it moving slowly through the air. It left a 
trail of smoke behind it, and kept on burning until 
only the stump was left. 

"It was entering fresh air all the time," Tim con- 
tinued. "So it didn't choke itself with burnt gases. And 
if you think this is just an amusing trick of no practical 
importance, you're wrong. It means we've got to keep 
the air in the station on the move, otherwise we'd soon 
go the same way as that flame. Norman, will you switch 
on the ventilators again, now that you've had your 
little joke?" 

Joke or not, it was a very effective lesson. But it 
made me all the more determined that one of these 
days I was going to get my own back on Norman. Not 
that I disliked him, but I was getting a little tired of his 
sense of humor. 

Someone gave a shout from the other side of the 
room. 

"The Canopus is leaving!" 

We all rushed to the small circular windows and 
looked out into space. It was some time before I could 
manage to see anything, but presently I wormed my 
way to the front and pressed my face against the thick 
transparent plastic. 

The Canopus was the largest liner on the Mars run, 
and she had been here for some weeks having her 



The Morning Star 



49 



routine overhaul. During the last two days fuel and 
passengers had been going aboard, and she had now 
drifted away from the station until we were separated 
by a space of several miles. Like the Residential Sta- 
tion, the Canopus slowly revolved to give the passen- 
gers a sense of gravity. She was shaped rather like a 
giant doughnut, the cabins and living quarters forming 
a ring around the power plant and drive units. During 
the voyage the ship's spin would be gradually reduced, 
so that by the time her passengers reached Mars they 
would already be accustomed to the right gravity. On 
the homeward journey, just the reverse would happen. 

The departure of a spaceship from an orbit is not 
nearly so spectacular as a take-off from earth. It all 
happens in utter silence, of course, and it also happens 
very slowly. Nor is there any flame and smoke. All that 
I could see was a faint pencil of mist jetting from the 
drive units. The great radiator fins began to glow 
cherry red, then white hot, as the waste heat from the 
power plant flooded away into space. The liner's 
thousands of tons were gradually picking up speed, 
though it would be many hours before she gained 
enough velocity to escape from earth. The rocket that 
had carried me up to the station had traveled at a 
hundred times the acceleration of the Canopus, but 
the great liner could keep her drive units thrusting 
gently for weeks on end, to build up a final speed of 
almost half a million miles an hour. 

After five minutes, she was several miles away and 



Islands in the Sky 



moving at an appreciable velocity, pulling out away 
from our own orbit into the path leading to Mars. I 
stared hungrily after her, wondering when I too would 
travel on such a journey. Norman must have seen my 
expression, for he chuckled and said: 

"Thinking of stowing away on the next ship? Well, 
forget it. It can't be done. Oh, I know it's a favorite 
dodge in fiction, but it has never happened in prac- 
tice. There are too many safeguards. And do you know 
what they'd do to a stowaway if they did find one?" 

"No," I said, trying not to show too much interest— 
for to tell the truth I had been thinking along these 
lines. 

Norman rubbed his hand ghoulishly. "Well, an extra 
person on board would mean that much less food and 
oxygen for everyone else, and it would upset the fuel 
calculations too. So he'd simply be pushed overboard." 

"Then it's just as well that no one ever has stowed 
away." 

"It certainly is— but of course a stowaway wouldn't 
have a chance. He'd be spotted before the voyage 
began. There just isn't room to hide in a spaceship." 

I filed this information away for future reference. 
It might come in handy someday. 

Space Station One was a big place, but the appren- 
tices didn't spend all their time aboard it, as I quickly 
found out. They had a club room which must have 
been unique, and it was some time before I was al- 
lowed to visit it. 



The Morning Star 



51 



Not far from the station was a veritable museum of 
astronautics, a floating graveyard of ships that had 
seen their day and been withdrawn from service. Most 
of them had been stripped of their instruments and 
were no more than skeletons. On earth, of course, they 
would have rusted away long ago, but here in vacuum 
they would remain bright and untarnished forever. 

Among these derelicts were some of the great pio- 
neers—the first ship to land on Venus, the first to reach 
the satellites of Jupiter, the first to circle Saturn. At 
the end of their long voyages, they had entered the 
five-hundred-mile orbit round earth and the ferry 
rockets had come up to take off their crews. They were 
still here where they had been abandoned, never to 
be used again. 

All, that is, except the Morning Star. As everyone 
knows, she made the first circumnavigation of Venus, 
back in 1985. But very few people know that she was 
still in an excellent state of repair, for the apprentices 
had adopted her, made her their private headquarters, 
and, for their own amusement, had got her into work- 
ing condition again. Indeed, they believed she was at 
least as good as new and were always trying to "bor- 
row" enough rocket fuel to make a short trip. They 
were very hurt because no one would let them have 
any. 

Commander Doyle, of course, knew all about this 
and quite approved of it. After all, it was good train- 
ing. Sometimes he came over to the Morning Star to 



52 



Islands in the Sky 



see how things were getting on, but it was generally 
understood that the ship was private property. You 
had to have an invitation before you were allowed 
aboard. Not until I'd been around for some days, and 
had become more or less accepted as one of the gang, 
did I have a chance of making the trip over to the 
Morning Star. 

It was the longest journey I had made outside the 
station, for the graveyard was about five miles away, 
moving in the same orbit as the station but a little 
ahead of it. I don't quite know how to describe the 
curious vehicle in which we made the trip. It had been 
constructed out of junk salvaged from other ships, and 
was really nothing more than a pressurized cylinder, 
large enough to hold a dozen people. A low-powered 
rocket unit had been bolted to one end, there were 
a few auxiliary jets for steering, a simple air lock, a 
radio to keep in touch with the station— and that was 
all. This peculiar vessel could make the hop across to 
the Morning Star in about ten minutes, being capable 
of achieving a top speed of about thirty miles an hour. 
She had been christened The Skylark of Space, a name 
apparently taken from a famous old science fiction 
story. 

The Skylark was usually kept parked at the outer 
rim of the station, where she wouldn't get in anybody's 
way. When she was needed, a couple of the appren- 
tices would go out in space suits, loosen her mooring 
lines, and tow her to the nearest air lock. Then she 



The Morning Star 



53 



would be coupled up and you could go aboard through 
the connecting tube, just as if you were entering a 
real space liner. 

My first trip in the Skylark was a very different ex- 
perience from the climb up from earth. She looked so 
ramshackle that I expected her to fall to pieces at any 
moment, though in fact she had a perfectly adequate 
margin of safety. With ten of us aboard, her little 
cabin was distinctly crowded, and when the rocket 
motor started up, the gentle acceleration made us all 
drift slowly toward the rear of the ship. The thrust 
was so feeble that it made me weigh only about a 
pound, quite a contrast to the take-off from earth, 
where I could have sworn I weighed a ton! After a 
minute or so of this leisurely progress, we shut off the 
drive and drifted freely for another ten minutes, by 
which time a further brief burst of power brought us 
neatly to rest at our destination. 

There was plenty of room inside the Morning Star; 
after all, she had been the home of five men for almost 
two years. Their names were still there, scratched on 
the paint work in the control cabin, and the sight of 
those signatures took my imagination back almost a 
hundred years, to the great pioneering days of space- 
flight, when even the moon was a new world and no 
one had yet reached any of the planets. 

Despite the ship's age, everything inside the control 
room still seemed bright and new. The instrument 
board, as far as I could tell, might have belonged to 



54 



Islands in the Sky 



a ship of my own time. Tim Benton stroked the panel 
gently. "As good as new!" he said, with obvious pride 
in his voice. "I'd guarantee to take you to Venus any 
day!" 

I got to know the Morning Star controls pretty well. 
It was safe to play with them, of course, since the fuel 
tanks were empty and all that happened when one 
pressed the "Main Drive— Fire!" button was that a red 
light lit up. Still, it was exciting to sit in the pilot's 
seat and to daydream with my hands on the controls. 

A little workshop had been fitted up just aft of the 
main fuel tanks, and a lot of modelmaking went on 
here, as well as a good deal of serious engineering. 
Several of the apprentices had designed gadgets they 
wanted to try out, and were seeing if they worked in 
practice before they took them any farther. Karl 
Hasse, our mathematical genius, was trying to build 
some new form of navigational device, but as he al- 
ways hid it as soon as anybody came along, no one 
knew just what it was supposed to do. 

I learned more about spaceships while I was crawl- 
ing around inside the Morning Star than I ever did 
from books or lectures. It was true that she was nearly 
a century old, but although the details have altered, 
the main principles of spaceship design have changed 
less than one might expect. You still have to have 
pumps, fuel tanks, air purifiers, temperature regula- 
tors, and so on. The gadgets may change, but the jobs 
they must do remain the same. 



The Morning Star 



55 



The information I absorbed aboard the Morning 
Star was not merely technical by any means. I finished 
my training in weightlessness here, and I also learned 
to fight in free-fall. Which brings me to Ronnie Jordan. 

Ronnie was the youngest of the apprentices, about 
two years older than myself. He was a boisterous, fair- 
haired Australian— at least, he'd been born in Sydney 
but had spent most of his life in Europe. As a result, 
he spoke three or four languages, sometimes acciden- 
tally slipping from one to the other. 

He was good-natured and lighthearted, and gave 
the impression that he'd never quite got used to zero 
gravity but still regarded it as a great joke. At any 
rate, he was always trying out new tricks, such as 
making a pair of wings and seeing how well he could 
fly with them. (The answer was— not very well. But 
perhaps the wings weren't properly designed.) Be- 
cause of his high spirits, he was always getting into 
good-humored fights with the other boys, and a fight 
under free-fall conditions is fascinating to watch, 

The first problem, of course, is to catch your oppo- 
nent, which isn't easy, because if he refuses to co- 
operate, he can shoot off in so many directions. But 
even if he decides to play, there are further difficulties. 
Any kind of boxing is almost impossible, since the first 
blow would send you flying apart. So the only prac- 
ticable form of combat is wrestling. It usually starts 
with the two fighters floating in mid-air, as far as pos- 
sible from any solid object. They grasp wrists, with 



56 



Islands in the Sky 



their arms fully extended; after that it's difficult to see 
exactly what happens. The air is full of flying limbs 
and slowly rotating bodies. By the rules of the game, 
you've won if you can keep your opponent pinned 
against any wall for a count of five. This is much more 
difficult than it sounds, for he only has to give a good 
heave to send both of you flying out into the room 
again. Remember that, since there's no gravity, you 
can't just sit on your victim until your weight tires 
him out. 

My first fight with Ronnie arose out of a political 
argument. Perhaps it seems funny that out in space 
earth's politics matter at all. In a way they don't, at 
least, no one worries whether you're a citizen of the 
Atlantic Federation, the Panasiatic Union or the Pacific 
Confederacy. But there were plenty of arguments 
about which country was the best to live in, and as 
most of us had traveled a good deal, each had different 
ideas. 

When I told Ronnie that he was talking nonsense, 
he said, "Them's fightin' words," and before I knew 
what had happened I was pinned in a corner while 
Norman Powell lazily counted up to ten to give me a 
chance. I couldn't escape, because Ronnie had his feet 
braced firmly against the other two walls forming the 
corner of the cabin. 

The next time I did slightly better, but Ronnie still 
won easily. Not only was he stronger than I was, but 
I didn't have the technique. 



The Morning Star 



In the end, however, I did succeed in winning— just 
once. It took a lot of careful planning, and maybe Ron 
had become overconfident as well. 

I realized that if I let him get me in a corner I was 
done for. He could use his favorite "starfish" trick and 
pin me down, by bracing himself against the walls 
where they came together. On the other hand, if I 
stayed out in the open, his superior strength and skill 
would soon force me into an unfavorable position. It 
was necessary, therefore, to think of some way of 
neutralizing his advantages. 

I thought about the problem a lot before discovering 
the answer, and then I put in a good deal of practice 
when nobody else was around, for it needed very care- 
ful timing. 

At last I was ready. We were seated round the little 
table bolted to one end of the Morning Star's cabin— 
the end which was usually regarded as the floor. Ron 
was opposite me, and we'd been arguing in a good- 
natured manner for some time. It was obvious that a 
fight was about to start at any minute. When Ron be- 
gan to unbuckle his seat straps I knew it was time to 
take off. 

He'd just unfastened himself when I shouted, "Come 
and get me!" and launched myself straight at the 
"ceiling," fifteen feet away. This was the bit that had 
to be timed carefully. Once he'd judged the course I 
was taking, Ron kicked himself off a fraction of a sec- 
ond after me. 



58 



Islands in the Sky 



In free orbit, once you'd launched yourself on a 
definite path, you can't stop until you bump into some- 
thing again. Ron expected to meet me on the ceiling; 
what he didn't expect was that I'd get only halfway 
there. For my foot was tucked in a loop of cord that 
I'd thoughtfully fastened to the floor. I'd gone only a 
couple of yards when I jerked to a stop, dragging my- 
self back the way I'd come. Ron couldn't do anything 
but sail right on. He was so surprised at seeing me 
jerk back that he rolled over while ascending, to watch 
what had happened, and hit the ceiling with quite a 
thud. He hadn't recovered from this when I launched 
myself again, and this time I didn't hang on to the 
cord. Ron was still off balance as I came up like a 
meteor. He couldn't get out of the way in time and 
so I knocked the wind out of him. It was easy to hold 
him down for the count of five; in fact, Norman got 
to ten before Ron showed any signs of life. I was be- 
ginning to get a bit worried when he finally started to 
stir. 

Perhaps it wasn't a very famous victory, and a num- 
ber of people thought I'd cheated. Still, there was 
nothing against this sort of thing in the rules. 

It wasn't a trick I could use twice, and Ron got his 
own back next time. But, after all, he was older than I. 

Some of our other games weren't quite so rough. We 
played a lot of chess, with magnetic men, but as I'm 
no good at this, it wasn't much fun for me. About the 
only game at which I could always win was "swim- 



The Morning Star 



59 



ming"— not swimming in water, of course, but swim- 
ming in air. 

This was so exhausting that we didn't do it very 
often- You needed a fairly large room, and the com- 
petitors had to start floating in a line, well away from 
the nearest wall. The idea was to reach the winning 
post by clawing your way through the air. It was much 
like swimming through water, but a lot harder and 
slower. For some reason I was better at it than the 
others, which is rather odd, because I'm not much 
good at ordinary swimming. 

Still, I mustn't give the impression that all our time 
was spent in the Morning Star. There is plenty of work 
for everyone on a space station, and perhaps because 
of this the staff made the most of their time off. And— 
this is a curious point that isn't very well known— we 
had more opportunities for amusement than you might 
think because we needed very little sleep. That's one 
of the effects of zero gravity. All the time I was in 
space, I don't think I ever had more than four hours 
of continuous sleep. 

I was careful never to miss one of Commander 
Doyle's lectures, even when there were other things 
I wanted to do. Tim had advised me, tactfully, that 
it would make a good impression if I was always there 
—and the commander was a good speaker, anyway. 
Certainly I'm never likely to forget the talk on meteors 
which he gave to us. 

Looking back on it, that's rather funny, because I 



60 



Islands in the Sky 



thought the lecture was going to be pretty dull. The 
opening was interesting enough, but it soon bogged 
down in statistics and tables. You know what meteors 
are— tiny particles of matter which whirl through space 
and burn up through friction when they hit the earth's 
atmosphere. The huge majority are much smaller than 
sand grains, but sometimes quite large ones, weighing 
many pounds, come tumbling down into the atmos- 
phere. And on very rare occasions, hundred or even 
thousand-ton giants come crashing to earth and do 
considerable local damage. 

In the early days of spaceflight many people were 
nervous about meteors. They didn't realize just how 
big space was and thought that leaving the protective 
blanket of the atmosphere would be like entering a 
machine-gun barrage. Today we know better; though 
meteors are not a serious danger, small ones occasion- 
ally puncture stations or ships, and it's necessary to 
do something about them. 

My attention had strayed while Commander Doyle 
talked about meteor streams and covered the black- 
board with calculations showing how little solid mat- 
ter there really was in the space between the planets. 
I became more interested when he began to say what 
would happen if a meteor ever did hit us. 

"You have to remember," he said, "that because of 
its speed a meteor doesn't behave like a slow-moving 
object such as a rifle bullet, which moves at a mere 
mile a second. If a small meteor hits a solid object— 



The Morning Star 



61 



even a piece of paper— it turns into a cloud of incan- 
descent vapor. That's one reason why this station has 
a double hull: the outer shell provides almost com- 
plete protection against any meteors we're ever likely 
to meet. 

"But there's still a faint possibility that a big one 
might go through both walls and make a fairly large 
hole. Even that needn't be serious. The air would start 
rushing out, of course, but every room that has a wall 
toward space is fitted with one of these." 

He held up a circular disk, looking very much like 
a saucepan cover with a rubber flange around it. I'd 
often seen these disks, painted a bright yellow, clipped 
to the walls of the station, but hadn't given them much 
thought. 

"This is capable of taking care of leaks up to six 
inches in diameter. All you have to do is to place it 
against the wall near the hole and slide it along until 
it covers the leak. Never try to clamp the disk straight 
over the hole. Once it's in place, the air pressure will 
keep it there until a permanent repair can be made." 

He tossed the disk down into the class. 

"Have a look at it and pass it around. Any questions?" 

I wanted to ask what would happen if the hole was 
more than six inches across, but was afraid this might 
be regarded as a facetious question. Glancing around 
the class to see if anyone else looked like breaking the 
silence, I noticed that Tim Benton wasn't there. It was 
unusual for him to be absent, and I wondered what 



62 



Islands in the Sky 



had happened to him. Perhaps he was helping some- 
one on an urgent job elsewhere in the station. 

I had no further chance to puzzle over Tim's where- 
abouts. For at that precise moment there was a sudden, 
sharp explosion, quite deafening in that confined space. 
It was followed instantly by the terrifying, high- 
pitched scream of escaping air, air rushing through a 
hole that had suddenly appeared in the wall of the 
classroom. 



Chapter 4 A P/ogue of Pirates 



or a moment, as the outrushing air tore at our clothes 
and tugged us toward the wall, we were far too 
surprised to do anything except stare at the ragged 
puncture scarring the white paint. Everything had 
happened too quickly for me to be frightened— that 
came later. Our paralysis lasted for a couple of sec- 
onds; then we all moved at once. The sealing plate 
had been lying on Norman Powell's desk, and every- 
one made toward it. There was a moment of confused 
pushing, then Norman shouted above the shriek of 
air, "Out of my way!" He launched himself across the 
room, and the air current caught him like a straw in 
a millrace, slamming him into the wall. I watched in 
helpless fascination as he fought to prevent himself 
being sucked against the hole. Then, as suddenly as 

63 



64 



Islands in the Sky 



it had begun, the whistling roar ceased. Norman had 
managed to slide the seal into place. 

For the first time, I turned to see what Commander 
Doyle had been doing during the crisis. To my aston- 
ishment, he was still sitting quietly at his desk. What 
was more, there was a smile on his face, and a stop- 
watch in his hand. A dreadful suspicion began to creep 
into my mind, a suspicion that became a certainty in 
the next few moments. The others were also staring at 
him, and there was a long, icy silence. Then Norman 
coughed, and very ostentatiously rubbed his elbow 
where he had bruised it against the wall. If he could 
have managed a limp under zero gravity, I'm sure he'd 
have done so as he went back to his desk. When he 
reached there, he relieved his feelings by grabbing the 
elastic band that held his writing pad in place, pulling 
it away and letting it go with a "Twack!" The com- 
mander continued to grin. 

"Sorry if you've hurt yourself, Norman," he re- 
marked. "I really must congratulate you on the speed 
with which you acted. It took you only five seconds 
to get to the wall, which was very good when one al- 
lows for the fact that everybody else was getting in 
the way." 

"Thank you, sir," replied Norman, with quite un- 
necessary emphasis on the "sir." I could see he still 
didn't like the idea of having a practical joke played 
on him for a change. "But wasn't it rather a dangerous 
— er— trick to play?" 



A Plague of Pirates 



65 



"Not at all. If you want the technical details, there's 
a three-inch pipe around that hole, with a stopcock 
at the end of it. Tim is sitting out there in a space suit, 
and if we hadn't sealed the leak inside ten seconds, 
he'd have closed the tap and cut off the flow." 

"How was the hole made?" someone asked. 

"Just a small explosive charge, a very small one," 
replied the commander. His grin had vanished, and he 
had become quite serious again. 

"I didn't do this just for fun. One day you may run 
into a real leak, and this test may make all the differ- 
ence because you'll know what to do. As you've seen, 
a puncture this size can make quite a draft and could 
empty a room in half a minute. But it's easy enough 
to deal with if you act quickly and don't panic." 

He turned to Karl Hasse, who, like the good student 
he was, always sat in the front row. 

"Karl, I noticed you were the only one who never 
moved. Why?" 

In his dry, precise voice, Karl answered without any 
hesitation. 

"It was simple deduction. The chance of being hit 
by a large meteor is, as you had explained, inconceiv- 
ably rare. The chance of being hit by one just when 
you'd finished talking about them was— well, so rare 
that it's nearly impossible. So I knew there was no 
danger, and that you must be conducting some sort of 
test. That was why I just sat and waited to see what 
would happen." 



66 



islands in the Sky 



We all looked at Karl, feeling a little sheepish. I sup- 
pose he was right; he always was. It didn't help to 
make him any more popular. 

One of the biggest excitements of life in a space sta- 
tion is the arrival of the mail rocket from earth. The 
great interplanetary liners can come and go, but 
they're not so important as the tiny, bright yellow ships 
that keep the crews of the station in touch with home. 
Radio messages are all very well, but they can't com- 
pare with letters and, above all, parcels from earth. 

The station mail department was a cubby-hole near 
one of the air locks, and a small crowd usually gathered 
there even before the rocket had coupled up. As soon 
as the mailbags came aboard, they would be ripped 
open and some high-speed sorting would take place. 
Then the crowd would disperse, everyone hugging his 
correspondence or else saying, "Oh, well, I wasn't ex- 
pecting anything this time . . ." 

The lucky man who got a parcel couldn't keep it to 
himself for long. Space mail is expensive, and a parcel 
usually meant one of those little luxuries you couldn't 
normally obtain on the station. 

I was very surprised to find that I had quite a pile 
of letters waiting for me after the first rocket arrived— 
most of them from perfect strangers. The great major- 
ity were from boys of my own age who'd heard about 
me, or maybe had seen my TV appearances, and 
wanted to know all about life on the station. If I'd 
answered every one, there'd have been no time for 



A Plague of Pirates 



anything else. What was worse, I couldn't possibly 
afford to acknowledge them, even if I had the time. 
The postage would have taken all my spare cash. 

I asked Tim what I'd better do about it. He looked 
at some of the letters and replied: 

"Maybe I'm being cynical, but I think most of them 
are after space-mail stamps. If you feel you ought to 
acknowledge them, wait until you get back to earth. 
It'll be much cheaper." 

That was what I did, though I'm afraid a lot of peo- 
ple were disappointed. 

There was also a parcel from home, containing a 
good assortment of candy and a letter from Mom tell- 
ing me to be sure to wrap up tight against the cold. I 
didn't say anything about the letter, but the rest of the 
parcel made me very popular for a couple of days. 

There cannot be many people on earth who have 
never seen the TV serial "Dan Drummond, Space De- 
tective." Most of them, at some time or another, must 
have watched Dan tracking down interplanetary 
smugglers and assorted crooks, or have followed his 
never-ending battle with Black Jarvis, most diabolical 
of space pirates. 

When I came to the station, one of my minor sur- 
prises was discovering how popular Dan Drummond 
was among the staff. If they were off duty, and often 
when they weren't, they never missed an instalment 
of his adventures. Of course, they all pretended that 
they tuned in for the laughs, but that wasn't quite true. 



68 



Islands in the Sky 



For one thing, "Dan Drummond" isn't half so ridicu- 
lous as many of the other TV serials. In fact, on the 
technical side it's pretty well done and the producers 
obviously get expert advice, even if they don't always 
use it. There's more than a suspicion that someone 
aboard the station helps with the script, but nobody 
has ever been able to prove this. Even Commander 
Doyle has come under suspicion, though it's most un- 
likely that anyone will ever accuse him outright. 

We were all particularly interested in the current 
episode, as it concerned a space station supposed to be 
orbiting Venus. Blackie's marauding cruiser, The 
Queen of Night, was running short of fuel, so the 
pirates were planning to raid the station and replenish 
their tanks. If they could make off with some loot and 
hostages at the same time, so much the better. When 
the last instalment of the serial had ended, the pirate 
cruiser, painted jet black, was creeping up on the un- 
suspecting station, and we were all wondering what 
was going to happen next. 

There has never been such a thing as piracy in space, 
and since no one except a multi-million combine can 
afford to build ships and supply them with fuel, it's 
difficult to see how Black Jarvis could hope to make 
a living. This didn't spoil our enjoyment of the serial, 
but it sometimes caused fierce arguments about the 
prospects for spatial crime. Peter van Holberg, who 
spent a lot of his time reading lurid magazines and 
watching the serials, was sure that something could be 



A Plague ot Pirates 



69 



done if one was really determined. He amused himself 
by inventing all sorts of ingenious crimes and asking 
us what was to stop a person from getting away with 
them. We felt that he had missed his true vocation. 

Black Jarvis' latest exploit made Peter unusually 
thoughtful, and for a day or so he went around work- 
ing out just how valuable the contents of the station 
would be to an interplanetary desperado. It made an 
impressive figure, especially when one included the 
freight charges. If Peter's mind hadn't already been 
working along these lines, he would never have noticed 
the peculiar behavior of the Cygnus. 

In addition to the spaceships on the regular, sched- 
uled runs, ships on special missions touched at the 
station about two or three times a month. Usually they 
were engaged on scientific research projects, occasion- 
ally something really exciting like an expedition to the 
outer planets. Whatever it was they were doing, every- 
one aboard the station always knew all about it. 

But no one knew much about the Cygnus, except 
that she was down in Lloyd's Register as a medium 
freighter and was about due to be withdrawn from 
service, since she had been in operation for almost five 
years without a major overhaul. It attracted little sur- 
prise when she came up to the station and anchored 
(yes, that's the expression still used) about ten miles 
away. This distance was greater than usual, but that 
might only mean that she had an ultracautious pilot. 
And there she stayed. All attempts to discover what 



70 



Islands in Ihe Sky 



she was doing failed completely. She had a crew of 
two. We knew that because they jetted over in their 
suits and reported to Control. They gave no clearance 
date and refused to state their business, which was 
unheard of but not illegal. 

Naturally this started many theories circulating. One 
was that the ship had been chartered secretly by 
Prince Edward, who as everybody knew had been try- 
ing to get out into space for years. It seems the British 
Parliament won't let him go, the heir to the throne 
being considered too valuable to risk on such danger- 
ous amusements as spaceflight. However, the Prince 
is such a determined young man that no one will be 
surprised if he turns up on Mars one day, having dis- 
guised himself and signed on with the crew. If he ever 
attempts such a journey, he'll find plenty of people 
ready to help him. 

But Peter had a much more sinister theory. The ar- 
rival of a mysterious and untalkative spaceship fitted 
in perfectly with his ideas on interplanetary crime. If 
you wanted to rob a space station, he argued, how else 
would you set about it? 

We laughed at him, pointing out that the Cygnus 
had done her best to arouse suspicion rather than allay 
it. Besides, she was a small ship and couldn't carry a 
very large crew. The two men who'd come across to 
the station were probably all she had aboard. 

By this time, however, Peter was so wrapped up in 
his theories that he wouldn't listen to reason, and be- 



A Plague of Pirates 



71 



cause it amused us we let him carry on and even 
encouraged him. But we didn't take him seriously. 

The two men from the Cygnus would come aboard 
the station at least once a day to collect any mail from 
earth and to read the papers and magazines in the rest 
room. That was natural enough, if they had nothing 
else to do, but Peter thought it highly suspicious. It 
proved, according to him, that they were reconnoiter- 
ing the station and getting to know their way around. 
"To lead the way, I suppose," said someone sarcasti- 
cally, "for a boarding party with cutlasses." 

Then, unexpectedly, Peter turned up fresh evidence 
that made us take him a little more seriously. He dis- 
covered from the Signals Section that our mysterious 
guests were continually receiving messages from earth, 
using their own radio on a wave band not allocated for 
official or commercial services. There was nothing il- 
legal about that, since they were operating in one of 
the "free ether" bands, but once again it was unusual. 
And they were using code. That was most unusual. 

Peter was very excited about all this. "It proves that 
there's something funny going on," he said belliger- 
ently. "No one engaged on honest business would be- 
have like this. I won't say that they're going in for 
something as old-fashioned as piracy. But what about 
drug smuggling?" 

"I should hardly think that the number of drug ad- 
dicts in the Martian and Venusian colonies would make 
this very profitable," put in Tim Benton mildly. 



72 



Islands in the Sky 



"I wasn't thinking of smuggling in that direction," 
retorted Peter scornfully. "Suppose someone's dis- 
covered a drug on one of the planets and is smuggling 
it back to earth?" 

"You got that idea from the last Dan Drummond 
adventure but two," said somebody. "You know, the 
one they had on last year— all about the Venus low- 
lands." 

"There's only one way of finding out," continued 
Peter stubbornly. "I'm going over to have a look. 
Who'll come with me?" 

There were no volunteers. I'd have offered to go, 
but I knew he wouldn't accept me. 

"What, all afraid?" Peter taunted. 

"Just not interested," replied Norman. "I've got 
better ways of wasting my time." 

Then, to our surprise, Karl Hasse came forward. 

"I'll go," he said. "I'm getting fed up with the whole 
affair, and it's the only way we can stop Peter from 
harping on it." 

It was against safety regulations for Peter to make 
a trip of this distance by himself, so unless Karl had 
volunteered he would have had to drop the idea. 

"When are you going?" asked Tim. 

"They come over for their mail every afternoon, and 
when they're both aboard the station we'll wait for 
the next eclipse period and slip out." 

That would be the fifty minutes when the station 
was passing through earth's shadow. It was very dif- 



A Plague of Pirates 



73 



ficult to see small objects at any distance then, so there 
was little chance of detection. They would also have 
some difficulty in finding the Cygnus, since she would 
reflect very little starlight and would probably be in- 
visible from more than a mile away. Tim Benton 
pointed this out. 

"I'll borrow a 'beeper' from Stores," replied Peter. 
"Joe Evans will let me sign for one." 

A beeper is a tiny radar set, not much bigger than 
a hand torch, which is used to locate objects that have 
drifted away from the station. It's got a range of a 
few miles on anything as large as a space suit and could 
pick up a ship a lot farther away. You wave it around 
in space, and when its beam hits anything you hear a 
series of "beeps." The closer you get to the reflecting 
object, the faster the beeps come, and with a little 
practice you can judge distances pretty accurately. 

Tim Benton finally gave his grudging consent for 
this adventure, on condition that Peter keep in radio 
touch all the time and tell him exactly what was hap- 
pening. So I heard the whole thing over the loud- 
speaker in one of the workshops. It was easy to imagine 
that I was out there with Peter and Karl in that star- 
studded darkness with the great shadowy earth below 
me, and the station slowly receding behind. 

They had taken a careful sight of the Cygnus while 
she was still visible by reflected sunlight and had 
waited for five minutes after we'd gone into eclipse 
before launching themselves in the right direction. 



74 



Islands in the Sky 



Their course was so accurate that they had no need 
to use the beeper: the Cygnus came looming up at 
them at just about the calculated moment, and they 
slowed to a halt. 

"All clear," reported Peter, and I could sense the 
excitement in his voice. "There's no sign of life." 

"Can you see through the ports?" asked Tim. There 
was silence for a while, apart from heavy breathing 
and an occasional metallic click from the space suit's 
controls. Then we heard a "bump" and an exclamation 
from Peter. 

"That was pretty careless," came Karl's voice. "If 
there was anyone else inside, they'll think they've run 
into an asteroid." 

"I couldn't help it," protested Peter. "My foot 
slipped on the jet control." Then we heard some scrab- 
bling noises as he made his way over the hull. 

"I can't see into the cabin," he reported. "It's too 
dark. But there's certainly no one around. I'll go 
aboard. Is everything O.K.?" 

"Yes. Our two suspects are playing chess in the rec- 
reation room. Norman's looked at the board and says 
they'll be a long time yet." Tim chuckled. I could see 
he was enjoying himself and taking the whole affair as 
a great joke. I was beginning to find it quite exciting. 

"Beware of booby traps," Tim continued. "I'm sure 
no experienced pirates would walk out of their ship 
and leave it unguarded. Maybe there's a robot waiting 
in the air lock with a ray gun!" 



A Plague of Pirafes 



75 



Even Peter thought this unlikely and said so in no 
uncertain tones. We heard more subdued Dumpings as 
he moved round the hull to the air lock, and then there 
was a long pause while he examined the controls. 
They're standard on every ship, and there's no way of 
locking them from outside, so he did not expect much 
difficulty here. 

"It's opening," he announced tersely. "I'm going 
aboard." 

There was another anxious interval. When Peter 
spoke again, his voice was much fainter, owing to the 
shielding effect of the ship's hull, but we could still 
hear him when we turned the volume up. 

"The control room looks perfectly normal," he re- 
ported, with more than a trace of disappointment in 
his voice. "We're going to have a look at the cargo." 

"It's a little late to mention this," said Tim, "but 
do you realize that you're committing piracy or some- 
thing very much like it? I suppose the lawyers would 
call it 'unauthorized entry of a spaceship without the 
knowledge and consent of the owners.' Anyone know 
what the penalty is?" 

Nobody did, though there were several alarming 
suggestions. Then Peter called to us again. 

"This is a nuisance. The hatch to the stores is locked. 
I'm afraid we'll have to give up; they'll have taken 
the keys with them." 

"Not necessarily," we heard Karl reply. "You know 
how often people leave a spare set in case they lose 



76 



Islands in the Sky 



the one they're carrying. They always hide it in what 
they imagine is a safe place, but you can usually 
deduce where it is." 

"Then go ahead, Sherlock. Is it still all clear at your 
end?" 

"Yes. The game's nowhere near finished. They seem 
to have settled down for the afternoon." 

To everyone's surprise, Karl found the keys in less 
than ten minutes. They had been tucked into a little 
recess under the instrument panel. 

"Here we go!" shouted Peter gleefully. 

"For goodness' sake, don't interfere with anything," 
cautioned Tim, now wishing he'd never allowed the 
exploit. "Just have a look round and come straight 
home." 

There was no reply; Peter was too busy with the 
door. We heard the muffled "clank" as he finally got 
it open and there were scrapings as he slid through the 
entrance. He was still wearing his space suit, so that 
he could keep in touch with us over the radio. A mo- 
ment later we heard him shriek: "Karl! Look at this!" 

"What's the fuss?" replied Karl, still as calm as ever. 
"You nearly blew in my eardrums." 

We didn't help matters by shouting our own queries, 
and it was some time before Tim restored order. 

"Stop yelling, everybody! Now, Peter, tell us exactly 
what you've found." 

I could hear Peter give a sort of gulp as he collected 
his breath. 



A Plague of Pirates 



77 



"This ship is full of guns!" he gasped. "Honest— I'm 
not fooling! I can see about twenty of them, clipped to 
the walls. And they're not like any guns I've ever seen 
before. They've got funny nozzles, and there are red 
and green cylinders fixed beneath them. I can't imag- 
ine what they're supposed—" 

"Karl," Tim demanded, "is Peter pulling our legs?" 

"No," came the reply. "It's perfectly true. I don't 
like to say this, but if there are such things as ray guns, 
we're looking at them now." 

"What shall we do?" wailed Peter. He didn't seem 
happy at finding this support for his theories. 

"Don't touch anything!" ordered Tim. "Give us a 
detailed description of everything you can see and 
then come straight back." 

But before Peter could obey, we all had a second 
and much worse shock. For suddenly we heard Karl 
gasp, "What's that?" 

There was silence for a moment; then a voice I could 
hardly recognize as Peter's whispered, "There's a ship 
outside. It's connecting up. What shall we do?" 

"Make a run for it," whispered Tim urgently— as if 
whispering made any difference. "Shoot out of the lock 
as quickly as you can and come back to the station by 
different routes. It's dark for another ten minutes; they 
probably won't see you." 

"Too late," said Karl, still hanging on to the last 
shreds of his composure. "They're already coming 
aboard. There goes the outer door now." 



Chapter 5 

Star Turn 



fOK a moment no one could think of anything to say. 
Then Tim, still whispering, breathed into the micro- 
phone, "Keep calm! If you tell them that you're in 
radio contact with us, they won't dare touch you." 
This, I couldn't help thinking, was being rather opti- 
mistic. Still, it might be good for our companions' 
morale, which was probably at a pretty low ebb. 

"I'm going to grab one of those guns," Peter called. 
"I don't know how they work, but it may scare them. 
Karl, you take one as well." 

"For heaven's sake, be careful!" warned Tim, now 
looking very worried. He turned to Ronnie. 

"Ron, call the commander and tell him what's hap- 

78 



Star Turn 



79 



pening— quickly! And get a telescope on the Cygnus to 
see what ship's over there." 

We should have thought of this before, of course, 
but it had been forgotten in the general excitement. 

"They're in the control room now," reported Peter. 
"I can see them. They're not wearing space suits, and 
they aren't carrying guns. That gives us quite an ad- 
vantage." 

I suspected that Peter was beginning to feel a little 
happier, wondering if he might yet be a hero. 

"I'm going out to meet them," he announced sud- 
denly. "It's better than waiting in here, where they're 
bound to find us. Come on, Karl." 

We waited breathlessly. I don't know what we ex- 
pected—anything, I imagine, from a salvo of shots 
to the hissing or crackling of whatever mysterious 
weapons our friends were carrying. The one thing we 
didn't anticipate was what actually happened. 

We heard Peter say (and I give him full credit for 
sounding quite calm ) : "What are you doing here, and 
who are you?" 

There was silence for what seemed an age. I could 
picture the scene as clearly as if I'd been present- 
Peter and Karl standing at bay behind their weapons, 
the men they had challenged wondering whether to 
surrender or to make a fight for it. 

Then, unbelievably, someone laughed. There were 
a few words we couldn't catch in what seemed to be 
English, but they were swept away by a roar of merri- 



80 



Islands in the Sky 



ment. It sounded as if three or four people were all 
laughing simultaneously at the tops of their voices. 

We could do nothing but wait and wonder until the 
tumult had finished. Then a new voice, amused and 
friendly, came from the speaker. 

"O.K., boys, you might as well put those gadgets 
down. You couldn't kill a mouse with them unless you 
swatted it over the head. I guess you're from the sta- 
tion. If you want to know who we are, this is Twenty- 
first Century Films, at your service. I'm Lee Thomson, 
assistant producer. And those ferocious weapons 
you've got are the ones that Props made for our new 
interstellar epic. I'm glad to know they've convinced 
somebody. They always looked quite phony to me." 

No doubt the reaction had something to do with it, 
for we all dissolved in laughter then. When the com- 
mander arrived, it was quite a while before anyone 
could tell him just what had happened. 

The funny thing was that, though Peter and Karl 
had made such fools of themselves, they really had the 
last laugh. The film people made quite a fuss over them 
and took them over to their ship, where they had a 
good deal to eat that wasn't on the station's normal 
menu. 

When we got to the bottom of it, the whole mystery 
had an absurdly simple explanation. Twenty-first Cen- 
tury were going all out to make a real epic, the first 
interstellar and not merely interplanetary film. And it 



Star Turn 



81 



was going to be the first feature film to be shot entirely 
in space, without any studio faking. 

All this explained the secrecy. As soon as the other 
companies knew what was going on, they'd all be 
climbing aboard the bandwagon. Twenty-first Century 
wanted to get as big a start as possible. They'd shipped 
up one load of props to await the arrival of the main 
unit with its cameras and equipment. Besides the "ray 
guns" that Peter and Karl had encountered, the crates 
in the hold contained some weird four-legged space 
suits for the beings who were supposed to live on the 
planets of Alpha Centauri. Twenty-first Century was 
doing the thing in style, and we gathered that there 
was another unit at work on the moon. 

The actual shooting was not going to start for an- 
other two days, when the actors would be coming up in 
a third ship. There was much excitement at the news 
that the star was none other than Linda Lorelli, 
though we wondered how much of her glamour would 
be able to get through a space suit. Playing opposite 
her in one of his usual tough, he-man roles would be 
Tex Duncan. This was great news to Norman Powell, 
who had a vast admiration for Tex and had a photo- 
graph of him stuck on his locker. 

All these preparations next door to us were rather 
distracting, and whenever they were off duty the sta- 
tion staff would jump into suits and go across to see 
how the film technicians were getting on. They had un- 
loaded their cameras, which were fixed to little rocket 



82 



Islands in the Sky 



units so that they could move around slowly. The sec- 
ond spaceship was now being elaborately disguised by 
the addition of blisters, turrets and fake gun-housings 
to make it look (so Twenty-first Century hoped) like a 
battleship from another solar system. It was really 
quite impressive. 

We were at one of Commander Doyle's lectures 
when the stars came aboard. The first we knew of their 
arrival was when the door opened and a small 
procession drifted in. The Station Commander came 
first, then his deputy, and then Linda Lorelli. She was 
wearing a rather worried smile, and it was quite 
obvious that she found the absence of gravity very 
confusing. Remembering my own early struggles, I 
sympathized with her. She was escorted by an elderly 
woman who seemed at home under zero g and gave 
Linda a helpful push when she showed signs of being 
stuck. 

Tex Duncan followed close behind. He was trying 
to manage without an escort and not succeeding very 
well. He was a good deal older than I'd guessed from 
his films, probably at least thirty-five. And you could 
see through his hair in any direction you cared to look. 
I glanced at Norman, wondering how he'd reacted to 
the appearance of his hero. He looked just a shade 
disappointed. 

It seemed that everyone had heard about Peter and 
Karl's adventure, for Miss Lorelli was introduced to 
them, and they all shook hands very politely. She asked 



Star Turn 



83 



several sensible questions about their work, shuddered 
at the equations Commander Doyle had written on the 
blackboard and invited us all across to the company's 
largest ship, the Orson Welles, for tea. I thought she 
was very nice, much more agreeable than Tex, who 
looked bored stiff with the whole business. 

After this, I'm afraid, the Morning Star was de- 
serted, particularly when we found that we could make 
some money giving a hand on the sets. The fact that 
we were all used to weightlessness made us very 
useful, for though most of the film technicians had 
been into space before, they were not very happy under 
zero g and so moved slowly and cautiously. We could 
manage things much more efficiently, once we had 
been told what to do. 

A good deal of the film was being shot on sets inside 
the Orson Welles, which had been fitted up as a sort of 
flying studio. All the scenes which were supposed to 
take place inside a spaceship were being shot here 
against suitable backgrounds of machinery, control 
boards, and so on. The really interesting sequences, 
however, were those which had to be filmed out in 
space. 

There was one episode, we gathered, in which Tex 
Duncan would have to save Miss Lorelli from falling 
helplessly through space into the path of an approach- 
ing planet. As it was one of Twenty-first Century's 
proudest boasts that Tex never used stand-ins, but 
actually carried out even the most dangerous feats 



84 



Islands in the Sky 



himself, we were all looking forward to this. We 
thought it might be worth seeing, and as it turned out 
we were right. 

I had now been on the station for a fortnight and 
considered myself an old hand. It seemed perfectly nat- 
ural to have no weight, and I had almost forgotten the 
meaning of the words "up" and "down." Such matters 
as sucking liquids through tubes instead of drinking 
them from cups or glasses were no longer novelties but 
part of everyday life. 

I think there was only one thing I really missed on 
the station. It was impossible to have a bath the way 
you could on earth. I'm very fond of lying in a hot tub 
until someone comes banging on the door to make cer- 
tain I haven't fallen asleep. On the station you could 
have only a shower, and even this meant standing in- 
side a fabric cylinder and lacing it tight round your 
neck to prevent the spray from escaping. Any large 
volume of water formed a big globe that would float 
around until it hit a wall. When that happened, some 
of it would break up into smaller drops which would 
go wandering off on their own, but most of it would 
spread all over the surface it had touched, making a 
horrid mess. 

Over in the Residential Station, where there was 
gravity, they had baths and even a small swimming 
pool. Everyone thought that this last idea was simply 
showing off. 



Siar Turn 



85 



The rest of the staff, as well as the apprentices, had 
come to take me for granted and sometimes I was able 
to help in odd jobs. I'd learned as much as I could, 
without bothering people by asking too many ques- 
tions, and had filled four thick notebooks with informa- 
tion and sketches. When I got back to earth, I'd be able 
to write a book about the station if I wanted to. 

As long as I kept in touch with Tim Benton or the 
commander, I was now allowed to go more or less 
where I liked. The place that fascinated me most was 
the observatory, where they had a small but powerful 
telescope that I could play with when no one else was 
using it. 

I never grew tired of looking at the earth as it waxed 
and waned below. Usually the countries beneath us 
were clear of cloud, and I could get distinct views of 
the lands over which we were hurtling. Because of our 
speed, the ground beneath was rolling back five miles 
every second. But as we were five hundred miles up, 
if the telescope was kept tracking correctly you could 
keep an object in the field of view for quite a long time, 
before it got lost in the mists near the horizon. There 
was a neat automatic gadget on the telescope mount- 
ing that took care of this. Once you'd set the instru- 
ment on anything, it kept swinging at just the right 
speed. 

As we swept around the world, I could survey in 
each hundred minutes a belt stretching as far north as 
Japan, the Gulf of Mexico and the Bed Sea. To the 



Islands in the Sky 



south I could see as far as Rio de Janeiro, Madagascar 
and Australia. It was a wonderful way of learning 
geography, though because of the earth's curvature 
the more distant countries were very much distorted, 
and it was hard to recognize them from ordinary maps. 

Lying as it did above the Equator, the orbit of the 
station passed directly above two of the world's great- 
est rivers, the Congo and the Amazon. With my tele- 
scope I could see right into the jungles and had no 
difficulty at all in picking out individual trees and the 
larger animals. The great African Reservation was a 
wonderful place to watch, because if I hunted around I 
could find almost any animal I cared to name. 

I also spent a lot of time looking outward, away from 
earth. Although I was virtually no nearer the moon and 
planets than I was on earth— for at this altitude I was 
still only a five-hundredth of the way to the moon- 
now that I was outside the atmosphere I could get 
infinitely clearer views. The great lunar mountains 
seemed so close that I wanted to reach out and run my 
fingers along their ragged crests. Where it was night on 
the moon I could see some of the lunar colonies shining 
away like stars in the darkness. But the most wonderful 
sight of all was the take-off of a spaceship. When I had 
a chance, I'd listen to the radio and make a note of de- 
parture times. Then I'd go to the telescope, aim it at 
the right part of the moon, and wait. 

All I'd see at first would be a circle of darkness. Sud- 
denly there'd be a tiny spark that would grow brighter 



Star Turn 



87 



and brighter. At the same time it would begin to ex- 
pand as the rocket rose higher and the glare of its 
exhausts lit up more and more of the lunar landscape. 
In that brilliant, blue-white illumination I could see the 
mountains and plains of the moon, shining as brightly 
as they ever did in daylight. As the rocket climbed, the 
circle of light would grow wider and fainter, until 
presently it was too dim to reveal any more details of 
the land beneath. The ascending spaceship would be- 
come a brilliant, tiny star moving swiftly across the 
moon's dark face. A few minutes later, the star would 
wink out of existence almost as suddenly as it had been 
bom. The ship had escaped from the moon and was 
safely launched on its journey. In thirty or forty hours 
it would be sweeping into the orbit of the station, and 
I would be watching its crew come aboard, as uncon- 
cernedly as if they'd just taken a 'copter ride to the 
next town. 

I think I wrote more letters while I was on the sta- 
tion than I did in a year at home. They were all very 
short, and they all ended: "P.S. Please send this cover 
back to me for my collection." That was one way of 
making sure I'd have a set of space-mail stamps that 
would be the envy of everyone in our district. I 
stopped when I ran out of money, and a lot of distant 
aunts and uncles were probably surprised to hear from 
me. 

I also did one TV interview, a two-way affair, with 
my questioner down on earth. It seems there'd been 



88 



Islands in the Sky 



a good deal of interest roused by my trip to the station, 
and everyone wanted to know how I was getting on. I 
told them I was having a fine time and didn't want to 
come back for a while, at any rate. There were still 
plenty of things to do and see, and the Twenty-first 
Century film unit was now getting into its stride. 

While the technicians were making their prepara- 
tions, Tex Duncan had been learning how to use a 
space suit. One of the engineers had the job of teaching 
him, and we learned that he didn't think much of his 
pupil. Mr. Duncan was too sure that he knew all the 
answers, and because he could fly a jet he thought 
handling a suit would be easy. 

I got a ringside seat the day they started the free- 
space shots. The unit was operating about fifty miles 
away from the station, and we'd gone over in the Sky- 
lark, our private yacht, as we sometimes called her. 

Twenty-first Century had had to make this move 
for a rather amusing reason. One would have thought 
that, since they had at great trouble and expense got 
their actors and cameras out into space, they had only 
to go ahead and start shooting. But they soon found 
that it didn't work out that way. For one thing, the 
lighting was all wrong. 

Above the atmosphere, when you're in direct sun- 
shine, it's as if you have a single, intense spotlight play- 
ing on you. The sunward side of any object is bril- 
liantly illuminated, the dark side utterly black. As a 
result, when you look at an object in space you can see 



Star Turn 



89 



only part of it. You may have to wait until it's revolved 
and been fully illuminated before you can get a picture 
of it as a whole. 

One gets used to this sort of thing in time, but 
Twenty-first Century decided that it would upset au- 
diences down on earth. So they decided to get some 
additional lighting to fill in the shadows. For a while 
they even considered dragging out extra floodlights 
and floating them in space around the actors, but the 
power needed to compete with the sun was so tre- 
mendous that they gave up the idea. Then someone 
said, "Why not use mirrors?" This idea would probably 
have fallen through as well, if somebody else hadn't 
remembered that the biggest mirror ever built was 
floating in space only a few miles away. 

The old solar power station had been out of use for 
over thirty years, but its giant reflector was still as good 
as new. It had been built in the early days of astronau- 
tics to tap the flood of energy pouring from the sun, 
and to convert it into useful electric power. The main 
reflector was a great bowl almost three hundred feet 
across, shaped just like a searchlight mirror. Sunlight 
falling upon it was concentrated onto heating coils at 
the focus, where it flashed water into steam and so 
drove turbines and generators. 

The mirror itself was a very flimsy structure of 
curved girders, supporting incredibly thin sheets of 
metallic sodium. Sodium had been used because it was 
light and formed a good reflector. All these thousands 



90 



Islands in the Sky 



of facets collected the sunlight and beamed it at one 
spot, where the heating coils had been when die sta- 
tion was operating. However, the generating gear had 
been removed long ago, and only the great mirror was 
left, floating aimlessly in space. No one minded 
Twenty-first Century using it for their own purposes 
if they wanted to. They asked permission, were 
charged a nominal rent, and told to go ahead. 

What happened then was one of those things that 
seems very obvious afterward, but which nobody 
thinks of beforehand. When we arrived on the scene, 
the camera crews were in place about five hundred 
feet from the great mirror, some distance off the line 
between it and the sun. Anything on this line was now 
illuminated on both sides— from one direction by direct 
sunlight, from the other by light which had fallen on 
the mirror, been brought to a focus, and spread out 
again. I'm sorry if this all sounds a bit complicated, but 
it's important that you understand the setup. 

The Orson Welles was floating behind the camera- 
men, who were playing round with a dummy to get the 
right angles when we arrived. When everything was 
perfect, the dummy would be hauled in and Tex Dun- 
can would take its place. Everyone would have to work 
quickly because they wanted the crescent earth in the 
background. Unfortunately, because of our swift or- 
bital movement, earth waxed and waned so quickly 
that only ten minutes in every hour were suitable for 
filming. 



S/ar Turn 



91 



While these preparations were being made, we went 
in the power station control room. This was a large 
pressurized cylinder on the rim of the great mirror, 
with windows giving a good view in all directions. It 
had been made habitable and the air-conditioning 
brought into service again by some of our own tech- 
nicians—for a suitable fee, of course. They had also had 
the job of swinging the mirror round until it faced the 
sun once more. This had been done by fixing some 
rocket units to the rim and letting them fire for a few 
seconds at the calculated times. Quite a tricky busi- 
ness, and one that could be done only by experts. 

We were rather surprised to find Commander Doyle 
in the sparsely furnished control room. For his part, he 
seemed a little embarrassed to meet us. I wondered 
why he was interested in earning some extra money 
since he never went down to earth to spend it. 

While we were waiting for something to happen, 
he explained how the station had operated and why 
the development of cheap and simple atomic gener- 
ators had made the place obsolete. From time to time 
I glanced out of the window to see how the camera- 
men were getting on. We had a radio tuned in to their 
circuit, and the director's instructions came over it in 
a never-ending stream. I'm sure he wished he was back 
in a studio down on earth, and was cursing whoever 
had thought of this crazy idea of shooting a film in 
space. 

The great concave mirror was a really impressive 



92 



Islands in the Sky 



sight from here on its rim. A few of the facets were 
missing, and I could see the stars shining through, but 
apart from this it was quite intact— and, of course, com- 
pletely untarnished. I felt like a fly crawling on the 
edge of a metal saucer. Although the entire bowl of the 
mirror was being flooded with sunlight, it seemed dark 
from where we were stationed. All the light it was col- 
lecting was going to a point about two hundred feet 
out in space. There were still some supporting girders 
reaching out to the focus point, where the heating coils 
had been, but now they simply ended in nothingness. 

The great moment arrived at last. We saw the air 
lock of the Orson Welles swing open and Tex Duncan 
emerged. He had learned to handle his space suit 
reasonably well, though I'm sure I could have done 
better if I'd had as much chance to practice. 

The dummy was pulled away, the director started 
giving his instructions, and the cameras began to fol- 
low Tex. There was little for him to do in this scene 
except to make a few simple maneuvers with his suit. 
He was, I gathered, supposed to be adrift in space after 
the destruction of his ship and was trying to locate any 
other survivors. Needless to say, Miss Lorelli would be 
among them, but she hadn't yet appeared on the scene. 
Tex held the stage— if you could call it that— all to 
himself. 

The cameras continued shooting until the earth was 
half full and some of the continents had become recog- 



Star Turn 



93 



nizable. There was no point in continuing then, for this 
would give the game away. The action was supposed 
to be taking place off one of the planets of Alpha 
Centauri, and it would never do if the audience recog- 
nized New Guinea, India or the Gulf of Mexico. That 
would destroy the illusion with a bang. 

There was nothing to do but wait for thirty minutes 
until earth became a crescent again, and its telltale 
geography was hidden by mist or cloud. We heard the 
director tell the camera crews to stop shooting, and 
everyone relaxed. Tex announced over the radio, "I'm 
lighting a cigarette— I've always wanted to smoke in 
a space suit." Somebody behind me muttered, "Show- 
ing off again— serve him right if it makes him space- 
sick!" 

There were a few more instructions to the camera 
crews, and then we heard Tex again. 

"Another twenty minutes, did you say? Darned if 
I'll hang round all that time. I'm going over to look at 
this glorified shaving mirror." 

"That means us," remarked Tim Benton in deep dis- 
gust. 

"O.K.," replied the director, who probably knew 
better than to argue with Tex. "But be sure you're back 
in time." 

I was watching through the observation port and 
saw the faint mist from Tex's jets as he started toward 
us. 

"He's going pretty fast," someone remarked. "I hope 



Islands in ihe Sky 



he can stop in time. We don't want any more holes in 
our nice mirror." 

Then everything seemed to happen at once. I 
heard Commander Doyle shouting, "Tell that fool to 
stop! Tell him to brake for all he's worth! He's heading 
for the focus— it'll burn him to a cinder!" 

It was several seconds before I understood what he 
meant. Then I remembered that all the light and heat 
collected by our great mirror was being poured into 
that tiny volume of space toward which Tex was bliss- 
fully floating. Someone had told me that it was equal 
to the heat of ten thousand electric fires, and concen- 
trated into a beam only a few feet wide. Yet there was 
absolutely nothing visible to the eye, no way in which 
one could sense the danger until it was too late. Be- 
yond the focus, the beam spread out again, soon to 
become harmless. But where the heating coils had 
been, in that gap between the girders, it could melt 
any metal in seconds. Tex had aimed himself straight 
at the gap! If he reached it, he would last about as 
long as a moth in an oxyacetylene flame! 



Chapter 6 H s P <tai m space 



OMEONE was shouting over the radio, trying to send 
a warning to Tex. Even if it reached him in time, 
I wondered if he'd have sense enough to act cor- 
rectly. It was just as likely that he'd panic and start 
spinning out of control without altering his course. 

The commander must have realized this, for sud- 
denly he shouted: 
"Hold tight, everybody! I'm going to tip the mirror!" 
I grabbed the nearest handhold. Commander Doyle, 
with a single jerk of those massive forearms, launched 
himself across to the temporary control panel that had 
been installed near the observation window. He 
glanced up at the approaching figure and did some 
rapid mental calculations. Then his fingers flashed out 

95 



96 



Islands in the Sky 



and played across the switches of the rocket firing 
panel. 

Three hundred feet away, on the far side of the great 
mirror, I saw the first jets of flame stabbing against the 
stars. A shudder ran through the framework all around 
us; it was never meant to be swung as quickly as this. 
Even so, it seemed to turn very slowly. Then I saw that 
the sun was moving off to one side. We were no longer 
aimed directly toward it, and the invisible cone of fire 
converging from our mirror was now opening out 
harmlessly into space. How near it passed to Tex we 
never knew, but he said later that there was one brief, 
blinding explosion of light that swept past him, leaving 
him blinded for minutes. 

The controlling rockets burned themselves out, and 
with a gasp of relief I let go of my handhold. Although 
the acceleration had been slight (there was not enough 
power in these small units to produce any really violent 
effect), it was more than the mirror had ever been 
designed to withstand, and some of the reflecting sur- 
faces had torn adrift and were slowly spinning in 
space. So, for that matter, was the whole power station. 
It would take a long period of careful juggling with 
the jets to iron out the spin that Commander Doyle 
had given it. Sun, earth and stars were slowly turning 
all about us and I had to close my eyes before I could 
get any sense of orientation. 

When I opened them again, the commander was 
busily talking to the Orson Welles, explaining just what 



Hospital in Space 



97 



had happened and saying exactly what he thought of 
Mr. Duncan. That was the end of shooting for the day, 
and it was quite a while before anyone saw Tex again. 

Soon after this episode, our visitors packed their 
things and went farther out into space, much to our 
disappointment. The fact that we were in darkness for 
half the time, while passing through the shadow of the 
earth, was too big a handicap for efficient filming. Ap- 
parently they had never thought of this, and when we 
heard of them again they were ten thousand miles out, 
in a slightly tilted orbit that kept them in perpetual 
sunlight. 

We were sorry to see them go, because they had 
provided much entertainment and we'd been anxious 
to see the famous ray guns in action. To everyone's sur- 
prise, the entire unit eventually got back to earth 
safely. But we're still waiting for the film to appear. 

It was the end, too, of Norman's hero worship. The 
photo of Tex vanished from his locker and was never 
seen again. 

In my prowling around, I'd now visited almost 
every part of the station that wasn't strictly out of 
bounds. The forbidden territory included the power 
plant— which was radioactive anyway, so that nobody 
could go into it— the Stores Section, guarded by a fierce 
quartermaster, and the main control room. This was 
one place I'd badly wanted to go; it was the "brain" 
of the station, from which radio contact was main- 
tained with all the ships in this section of space, and 



98 



Islands in the Sky 



of course with earth itself. Until everyone knew that 
I could be trusted not to make a nuisance of myself, 
there was little chance of my being allowed in there. 
But I was determined to manage it someday, and at 
last I got the opportunity. 

One of the tasks of the junior apprentices was to take 
coffee and light refreshments to the duty officer in the 
middle of his watch. This always occurred when the 
station was crossing the Greenwich Meridian. Since it 
took exactly a hundred minutes for us to make one 
trip around the earth, everything was based on this in- 
terval and our clocks were adjusted to give a local 
"hour" of this length. After a while one got used to 
being able to judge the time simply by glancing at the 
earth and seeing what continent was beneath. 

The coffee, like all drinks, was carried in closed con- 
tainers (nicknamed "milk bottles") and had to be 
drunk by sucking through a plastic tube, since it 
wouldn't pour in the absence of gravity. The refresh- 
ments were taken up to the control room in a light 
frame with little holes for the various containers, and 
their arrival was always much appreciated by the 
staff on duty, except when they were dealing with 
some emergency and were too busy for anything else. 

It took a lot of persuading before I got Tim Benton 
to put me down for this job. I pointed out that it re- 
lieved the other boys for more important work; to 
which he retorted that it was one of the few jobs they 
liked doing. But at last he gave in. 



Hospital in Space 



99 



I'd been carefully briefed, and just as the station was 
passing over the Gulf of Guinea I stood outside the 
control room and tinkled my little bell. (There were a 
lot of quaint customs like this aboard the station.) 
The duty officer shouted, "Come in!" I steered my tray 
through the door and then handed out the food and 
drinks. The last milk bottle reached its customer just as 
we were passing over the African coast. 

They must have known I was coming because no 
one seemed in the least surprised to see me. As I had 
to stay and collect the empties, there was plenty of 
opportunity to look around the control room. It was 
spotlessly clean and tidy, dome-shaped, and with a 
wide glass panel running right round it. Besides the 
duty officer and his assistant, there were several radio 
operators at their instruments, and other men working 
on equipment I couldn't recognize. Dials and TV 
screens were everywhere, lights were flashing on and 
off, yet the whole place was silent. The men sitting at 
their little desks were wearing headphones and throat 
microphones, so that any two people could talk with- 
out disturbing the others. It was fascinating to watch 
these experts working swiftly at their tasks, directing 
ships thousands of miles away, talking to the other 
space stations or to the moon and checking the many 
instruments on which our lives depended. 

The duty officer sat at a huge glass-topped desk on 
which glowed a complicated pattern of colored lights. 
It showed the earth, the orbits of the other stations and 



100 



Islands in Ihe Sky 



the courses of all the ships in our part of space. From 
time to time he would say something quietly, his lips 
scarcely moving, and I knew that some order was 
winging its way out to an approaching ship, telling it 
to hold off a little longer or to prepare for contact. 

I dared not hang around once I'd finished my job, 
but the next day I had a second chance. Because things 
were rather slack, one of the assistants was kind 
enough to show me around. He let me listen to some of 
the radio conversations, and explained the workings of 
the great display panel. The thing that impressed me 
most of all, however, was the shining metal cylinder, 
covered with controls and winking lights, which occu- 
pied the center of the room. 

"This," said my guide proudly, "is HAVOC." 

"What?" I asked. 

"Short for Automatic Voyage Orbit Computer." 

I thought this over for a moment. 

"What does the H stand for?" 

"Everyone asks that. It doesn't stand for anything." 
He turned to the operator. 

"What's she set up for now?" 

The man gave an answer that consisted chiefly of 
mathematics, but I did catch the word "Venus." 

"Right. Let's suppose we wanted to leave for Venus 
in— oh, four hours from now." His hands flicked across 
a keyboard like that of an overgrown typewriter. 

I expected HAVOC to whir and click, but all that 
happened was that a few lights changed color. Then, 



Hospital in Space 



101 



after about ten seconds, a buzzer sounded twice and a 
piece of tape slid out of a narrow slot. It was covered 
with closely printed figures. 

"There you are— everything you want to know. 
Direction of firing, elements of orbit, time of flight, 
when to start braking. All you need now is a space- 
ship!" 

I wondered just how many hundreds of calcula- 
tions the electronic brain had carried out in those few 
seconds. Space travel was certainly a complicated 
affair, so complicated that it sometimes depressed me. 
Then I remembered that these men didn't seem any 
cleverer than I was; they were highly trained, that 
was all. If one worked hard enough, one could master 
anything. 

My time on the Inner Station was now drawing to 
an end, though not in the way anyone had expected. 
I had slipped into the uneventful routine of life, and 
it had been explained to me that nothing exciting ever 
happened up here and if I'd wanted thrills I should 
have stayed back on earth. That was a little dis- 
appointing, for I'd hoped that something out of the 
ordinary would take place while I was here, though 
I couldn't imagine what. As it turned out, my wish 
was soon to be fulfilled. 

But before I come to that, I see I'll have to say 
something about the other space stations, which I've 
neglected so far. 

Ours, only five hundred miles up, was the nearest 



102 



Islands in the Sky 



to the earth, but there were others doing equally im- 
portant jobs at much greater distances. The farther 
out they were, the longer, of course, they took to make 
a complete revolution. Our "day" was only a hundred 
minutes, but the outermost stations of all took twenty- 
four hours to complete their orbit, thus providing the 
curious results which I'll mention later. 

The purpose of the Inner Station, as I've explained, 
was to act as a refueling, repair and transfer point 
for spaceships, both outgoing and incoming. For this 
job, it was necessary to be as close to the earth as 
possible. Much lower than five hundred miles would 
not have been safe since the last faint traces of air 
would have robbed the station of its speed and even- 
tually brought it crashing down. 

The Meteorological Stations, on the other hand, had 
to be a fair distance out so that they could "see" as 
much of the earth as possible. There were two of them, 
six thousand miles up, circling the world every six 
and a half hours. Like our Inner Station, they moved 
over the Equator. This meant that, though they could 
see much farther north and south than we could, the 
polar regions were still out of sight or badly distorted. 
Hence the existence of the Polar Met Station, which, 
unlike all the others, had an orbit passing over the 
poles. Together, the three stations could get a prac- 
tically continuous picture of the weather over the 
whole planet. 

A good deal of astronomical work was also carried 



Hospital in Space 



103 



on in these stations. Some very large telescopes had 
been constructed here, floating in free orbit where 
their weight wouldn't matter. 

Beyond the Met Stations, fifteen thousand miles up, 
circled the biology labs and the famous Space Hos- 
pital. There a great deal of research into zero-gravity 
conditions was carried out, and many diseases which 
were incurable on earth could be treated. For ex- 
ample, the heart no longer had to work so hard to 
pump blood round the body, and so could be rested 
in a manner impossible on earth. 

Finally, twenty-two thousand miles out were the 
three great Relay Stations. They took exactly a day 
to make one revolution; therefore they appeared to 
be fixed forever over the same spots on the earth. 
Linked to each other by tight radio beams, they pro- 
vided TV coverage over the whole planet. And not 
only TV, but all the long-distance radio and 'phone 
services passed through the Relay Chain, the build- 
ing of which at the close of the twentieth century 
had completely revolutionized world communications. 

One station, serving the Americas, was in Latitude 
90° West. A second, in 30° East, covered Europe and 
Africa. The third, in 150° East, served the entire 
Pacific area. There was no spot on earth where you 
could not pick up one or other of the stations. And 
once you had trained your receiving equipment in the 
right direction, there was never any need to move it 
again. The sun, moon and planets might rise and set, 



104 



Islands in the Sky 



but the three Relay Stations never moved from their 
fixed positions in the sky. 

The different orbits were connected by a shuttle 
service of small rockets which made trips at infre- 
quent intervals. On the whole, there was little traffic 
between the various stations. Most of their business 
was done directly with earth. At first I had hoped 
to visit some of our neighbors, but a few inquiries 
had made it obvious that I hadn't a chance. I was 
due to return home inside a week, and there was no 
spare passenger space available during that time. Even 
if there had been, it was pointed out to me, there 
were many more useful loads that could be carried. 

I was in the Morning Star watching Ronnie Jordan 
put the finishing touches to a beautiful model space- 
ship when the radio called. It was Tim Benton, on 
duty back at the station. He sounded very excited. 

"Is that Ron? Anyone else there— what, only Roy? 
Well, never mind— listen to this, it's very important." 

"Go ahead," replied Ron. We were both consider- 
ably surprised, for we'd never heard Tim really 
excited before. 

"We want to use the Morning Star. I've promised 
the commander that she'll be ready in three hours." 

"What!" gasped Ronnie. "I don't believe it!" 

"There's no time to argue— I'll explain later. The 
others are coming over right away. They'll have to 
use space suits, as you've got the Skylark with you. 



Hospital in Space 



105 



Now then, make a list of these points and start 
checking." 

For the next twenty minutes we were busy testing 
the controls— that is, those which would operate at 
all. We couldn't imagine what had happened, but 
were too fully occupied to do much speculating. For- 
tunately, I'd got to know my way around the Morn- 
ing Star so thoroughly that I was able to give Ron 
quite a bit of help, calling meter readings to him, 
and so on. 

Presently there was a bumping and banging from 
the air lock and three of our colleagues came aboard, 
towing batteries and power tools. They had made the 
trip on one of the rocket tractors used for moving 
ships and stores around the station, and had brought 
two drums of fuel across with them, enough to fill 
the auxiliary tanks. From them we discovered what 
all the fuss was about. 

It was a medical emergency. One of the passengers 
from a Mars-Earth liner, which had just docked at 
the Residential Station, had been taken seriously ill 
and had to have an operation within ten hours. The 
only chance of saving his life was to get him out to 
the Space Hospital, but unfortunately there were no 
ships available to make the journey. All the ships at 
the Inner Station were being serviced and would take 
at least a day to get spaceworthy. 

It was Tim who'd talked the commander into giv- 



106 



Islands in the Sky 



ing us this chance. The Morning Star, he pointed out, 
had been very carefully looked after, and the require- 
ments for a trip to the Space Hospital were not great. 
Only a small amount of fuel would be needed, and 
it wouldn't even be necessary to use the main motors. 
The whole journey could be made on the auxiliary 
rockets. 

Since he could think of no alternative, Commander 
Doyle had reluctantly agreed, after stating a number 
of conditions. We had to get the Morning Star over 
to the station under her own power so that she could 
be fueled up— and he would do all the piloting. 

During the next hour, I did my best to be useful 
and to become accepted as one of the crew. My chief 
job was going over the ship and securing loose objects, 
which might start crashing round when power was 
applied. Perhaps "crashing" is too strong a word, as 
we weren't going to use much of an acceleration. But 
anything adrift might be a nuisance and could even 
be dangerous if it got into the wrong place. 

It was a great moment when Norman Powell started 
the motors. He gave a short burst of power at very 
low thrust, while everyone watched the meters for 
signs of danger. We were all wearing our space suits 
as a safety precaution. If one of the motors exploded, 
it would probably not harm us up here in the con- 
trol room, but it might easily spring a leak in the hull. 

Everything went according to plan. The mild accel- 
eration made us all drift toward what had suddenly 



Hospital in Space 



107 



become the floor. Then the feeling of weight ceased 
again, and everything was normal once more. 

There was much comparing of meter readings, and 
at last Norman said, "The motors seem O.K. Let's get 
started." 

And so the Morning Star began her first voyage 
for almost a hundred years. It was not much of a 
journey, compared with her great trip to Venus. In 
fact, it was only about five miles, from the graveyard 
over to the Inner Station. Yet to all of us it was a 
real adventure, for we were all very fond of the 
wonderful old ship. 

We reached the Inner Station after about five min- 
utes, and Norman brought the ship to rest several 
hundred yards away. He was taking no risks with his 
first command. The tractors were already fussing 
around, and before long the towropes had been at- 
tached and the Morning Star was hauled in. 

It was at that point that I decided I'd better keep 
out of the way. Rear of the workshop (which had 
once been the Morning Star's hold) were several 
smaller chambers, usually occupied by stores. Most 
of the loose equipment aboard the ship had now been 
stuffed into these and lashed securely in place. How- 
ever, there was still plenty of room left. 

I want to make one thing quite clear. Although the 
word "stowaway" has been used, I don't consider it 
at all accurate. No one had actually told me to leave 
the ship, and I wasn't hiding. If anybody had come 



108 



Islands in the Sky 



through the workshop and rummaged around in the 
storeroom, he would have seen me. But nobody did, 
so whose fault was that? 

Time seemed to go very slowly while I waited. I 
could hear distant, muffled shouts and orders, and 
after a while there came the unmistakable pulsing of 
the pumps as fuel came surging into the tanks. Then 
there was another long interval. I knew Commander 
Doyle must be waiting until the ship had reached the 
right point in her orbit around the earth before he 
turned on the motors. I had no idea when this would 
be, and the suspense was terrible. 

But at last the rockets roared into life. Weight re- 
turned. I slid down the walls and found myself really 
standing on a solid floor again. I took a few steps to 
see what it felt like and didn't enjoy the experience. 
In the last fortnight I had grown so accustomed to lack 
of gravity that its temporary return was a nuisance. 

The thunder of the motors lasted for three or four 
minutes, and by the end of that time I was almost 
deafened by the noise, though I had pushed my fingers 
into my ears. Passengers weren't supposed to travel 
so near the rockets, and I was very glad when at last 
there was a sudden slackening in thrust and the roar 
surrounding me began to fade. Soon it ebbed into 
silence, though my head was still ringing, and it would 
be quite a while before I could hear properly again. 
But I didn't mind that. All that really mattered was 



Hospital in Space 



109 



that the journey had begun, and no one could send 
me back! 

I decided to wait for a while before going up to 
the control room. Commander Doyle would still be 
busy checking his course, and I didn't want to bother 
him while he was occupied. Besides, I had to think 
of a good story. 

Everyone was surprised to see me. There was com- 
plete silence when I drifted through the door and said: 
"Hello! I think someone might have warned me that 
we were going to take off." 

Commander Doyle simply stared at me. For a 
moment I couldn't decide whether he was going to 
be angry or not. Then he said: "What are you doing 
aboard?" 

"I was lashing down the gear in the storeroom." 
He turned to Norman, who looked a little unhappy. 
"Is that correct?" 

"Yes, sir. I told him to do it, but I thought he'd 
finished." 

The commander considered this for a moment. 
Then he said to me: "Well, we've no time to go into 
this now. You're here, and we'll have to put up with 
you." 

This was not very flattering, but it might have been 
much worse. And the expression on Norman's face 
was worth going a long way to see. 

The remainder of the Morning Star's crew consisted 



110 



Islands in the Sky 



of Tim Benton, who was looking at me with a quizzi- 
cal smile, and Ronnie Jordan, who avoided my gaze 
altogether. We had two passengers. The sick man was 
strapped to a stretcher that had been fixed against 
one wall; he must have been drugged, for he remained 
unconscious for the whole journey. With him was a 
young doctor who did nothing except look anxiously 
at his watch and give his patient an injection from 
time to time. I don't think he said more than a dozen 
words during the whole trip. 

Tim explained to me later that the sick man was 
suffering from an acute, and fortunately very rare, 
type of stomach trouble caused by the return of high 
gravity. It was very lucky for him that he had man- 
aged to reach the earth's orbit, because if he had been 
taken ill on the two months' voyage, the medical re- 
sources of the liner could not have saved him. 

There was nothing for any of us to do while the 
Morning Star swept outward on the long curve that 
would bring her, after some three and a half hours, 
to the Space Hospital. Very slowly, earth was reced- 
ing behind us. It was no longer so close that it filled 
almost half the sky. Already we could see far more 
of its surface than was possible from the Inner Sta- 
tion, skimming low above the Equator. Northward, 
the Mediterranean crept into view; then Japan and 
New Zealand appeared almost simultaneously over 
opposite horizons. 

And still the earth dwindled behind us. Now it was 



Hospital in Space 



111 



a sphere at last, hanging out there in space, small 
enough for the eye to take in the whole of it at one 
glance. I could now see so far to the south that the 
great Antarctic ice cap was just visible, a gleaming 
white fringe beyond the tip of Patagonia. 

We were fifteen thousand miles above the earth, 
swimming into the path of the Space Hospital. In a 
moment we would have to use the rockets again to 
match orbits. This time, however, I should have a more 
comfortable ride, here in the soundproof cabin. 

Once again weight returned with the roaring 
rockets. There was one prolonged burst of power, then 
a series of short corrections. When it was all over, 
Commander Doyle unstrapped himself from the pilot's 
seat and drifted over to the observation port. His in- 
struments told him where he was far more accurately 
than his eyes could ever do, but he wanted the satis- 
faction of seeing for himself. I also made for a port that 
no one else was using. 

Floating there in space beside us was what seemed 
to be a great crystal flower, its face turned full toward 
the sun. At first there was no way in which I could 
judge its true scale or guess how far away it was. Then, 
through the transparent walls, I could see little figures 
moving around and catch the gleam of sunlight on 
complex machines and equipment. The station must be 
at least five hundred feet in diameter, and the cost of 
lifting all this material fifteen thousand miles from the 
earth must be staggering. Then I recalled that very 



112 



Islands in the Sky 



little of it had come from earth, anyway. Like the other 
stations, the Space Hospital had been constructed al- 
most entirely from components manufactured on the 
moon. 

As we slowly drifted closer, I could see people 
gathering in the observation decks and glass-roofed 
wards to watch our arrival. For the first time, it oc- 
curred to me that this flight of the Morning Star really 
was something of an event. All the radio and TV net- 
works would be covering it. As a news story, it had 
everything— a race for life and a gallant effort by a 
long-retired ship. When we reached the hospital, we 
would have to run the gantlet. 

The rocket tractors came fussing up to us and the 
towropes started to haul us in. A few minutes later the 
air locks clamped together, and we were able to go 
through the connecting tube into the hospital. We 
waited for the doctor and his still unconscious patient 
to go first, then went reluctantly forward to meet the 
crowd waiting to welcome us. 

Well, I wouldn't have missed it for anything, and 
I'm sure the commander enjoyed it as much as any of 
us. They made a huge fuss and treated us like heroes. 
Although I hadn't done a thing and really had no right 
to be there at all (there were some rather awkward 
questions about that), I was treated just like the 
others. We were, in fact, given the run of the place. 

It seemed that we would have to wait there for two 
days before we could go back to the Inner Station be- 



Hospital in Space 



cause there was no earthbound ship until then. Of 
course, we could have made the return trip in the 
Morning Star, but Commander Doyle vetoed this. 

"I don't mind tempting providence once," he said, 
"but I'm not going to do it again. Before the old lady 
makes another trip, she's going to be overhauled and 
the motors tested. I don't know if you noticed it, but 
the combustion chamber temperature was starting 
to rise unpleasantly while we were doing our final 
approach. And there were about six other things that 
weren't all they should have been. I'm not going to be 
a hero twice in one week. The second time might be the 
last!" 

It was, I suppose, a reasonable attitude, but we were 
a little disappointed. Because of this caution, the Morn- 
ing Star didn't get back to her usual parking place for 
almost a month, to the great annoyance of her patrons. 

Hospitals are, I think, usually slightly depressing 
places, but this one was different. Few of the patients 
here were seriously ill, though down on earth most of 
them would have been dead or completely disabled, 
owing to the effect of gravity on their weakened hearts. 
Many were eventually able to return to earth, others 
could live safely only on the moon or Mars, and the 
severest cases had to remain permanently on the sta- 
tion. It was a kind of exile, but they seemed cheerful 
enough. The hospital was a huge place, ablaze with 
sunshine, and almost everything that could be found 



114 



Islands in the Sky 



on earth was available— everything, that is, that did not 
depend on gravity. 

Only about half of the station was taken up by the 
hospital; the remainder was devoted to research of 
various kinds. We were given some interesting con- 
ducted tours of the gleaming, spotless labs. And on one 
of these tours— well, this is what happened. 

The commander was away on some business in the 
Technical Section, but we had been invited to visit the 
Biology Department, which, we were promised, 
would be highly interesting. As it turned out, this was 
an understatement. 

We'd been told to meet a Dr. Hawkins on Corridor 
Nine, Biology Two. Now it's very easy to get lost in a 
space station— since all the local inhabitants know 
their way around perfectly, no one bothers with sign- 
posts. We found our way to what we thought was 
Corridor Nine, but couldn't see any door labeled 
"Biology Two." However, there was a "Biophysics 
Two," and after some discussion we decided that 
would be near enough. There would certainly be some- 
one inside who could redirect us. 

Tim Benton was in front and opened the door 
cautiously. 

"Can't see a thing," he grumbled. "Phew— it smells 
like a fishmonger's on a hot day!" 

I peered over his shoulder. The light was very dim, 
and I could make out only a few vague shapes. It was 
also very warm and moist, with sprays hissing con- 



Hospital in Space 



115 



tinuously on all sides. There was a peculiar odor that 
I couldn't identify, a cross between a zoo and a 
hothouse. 

"This place is no good," said Ronnie Jordan in dis- 
gust. "Let's try somewhere else." 

"Just a minute," exclaimed Norman, whose eyes 
must have become accustomed to the gloom more 
quickly than mine. "What do you think! They've got a 
tree in here. At least, it looks like it, though it's a 
mighty queer one." 

He moved forward, and we drifted after him, drawn 
by the same curiosity. I realized that my companions 
probably hadn't seen a tree or even a blade of grass 
for many months. It would be quite a novelty to them. 

I could see better now. We were in a very large 
room, with jars and glass-fronted cages all around us. 
The air was full of mist from countless sprays, and I 
felt as if we were in some tropical jungle. There were 
clusters of lamps all around, but they were turned off 
and we couldn't see the switches. 

About forty feet away was the tree that Norman had 
noticed. It was certainly an unusual object. A slender, 
straight trunk rose out of a metal box to which were 
attached various tubes and pumps. There were no 
leaves, only a dozen thin, tapering branches drooping 
straight down, giving it a slightly disconsolate air. It 
looked like a weeping willow that had been stripped 
of all its foliage. A continual stream of water played 
over it from clusters of jets, adding to the general 



116 



Islands in the Sky 



moistness of the air. I was beginning to find it difficult 
to breathe. 

"It can't be from earth," said Tim, "and I've never 
heard of anything like it on Mars or Venus." 

We had now drifted to within a few feet of the 
object, and the closer we got, the less I liked it. I said 
so, but Norman only laughed. 

His laugh turned to a yell of pure fright. For sud- 
denly that slender trunk leaned toward us, and the 
long branches shot out like whips. One curled around 
my ankle, another grasped my waist. I was too scared 
even to yell. I realized, too late, that this wasn't a tree 
at all— and that its "branches" were tentacles. 



CltUptCr 7 Wor/d of Monsters 



I Iy reaction was instinctive and violent. Though I 
M was floating in mid-air and so unable to get hold 
l|l of anything solid, I could still thrash around pretty 
effectively. The others were doing the same, and 
presently I came into contact with the floor so that I 
was able to give a mighty kick. The thin tentacles re- 
leased their grip as I shot toward the ceiling. I just 
managed to grasp one of the light fittings in time to stop 
myself from crashing into the roof, and then looked 
down to see what had happened to the others. 

They had all got clear, and now that my fright was 
subsiding I realized how feeble those clutching ten- 
tacles had really been. If we had been on solid ground 

117 



118 



Islands in the Sky 



with gravity to help us, we could have disengaged our- 
selves without any trouble. Even here, none of us had 
been hurt, but we were all badly scared. 

"What the devil is it?" gasped Tim when he had re- 
covered his breath and untangled himself from some 
rubber tubing draped along the wall. Everyone else 
was too shaken to answer. We were making our way 
unsteadily to the door when there was a sudden flood 
of light, and someone called out, "What's all the 
noise?" A door opened and a white-smocked man came 
drifting in. He stared at us for a moment and said: 

"I hope you haven't been teasing Cuthbert." 

"Teasing!" spluttered Norman. "I've never had such 
a fright in my life. We were looking for Dr. Hawkins 
and ran into this— this monster from Mars or whatever 
it is." 

The other chuckled. He launched himself away from 
the door and floated toward the now motionless cluster 
of tentacles. 

"Look out!" cried Tim. 

We watched in fascinated horror. As soon as the 
man was within range, the slim tendrils struck out 
again and whipped round his body. He merely put up 
an arm to protect his face, but made no other move- 
ment to save himself. 

"I'm afraid Cuthbert isn't very bright," he said. "He 
assumes that anything that comes near him is food 
and grabs for it. But we're not very digestible, so he 
soon lets go— like this." 



World of Monsters 



119 



The tentacles were already relaxing. With a gesture 
exactly like disdain, they thrust away their captive, 
who burst out laughing at our startled faces. 

"He's not very strong, either. It would be quite easy 
to get away from him, even if he wanted to keep you." 

"I still don't think it's safe to leave a beast like that 
around," said Norman with dignity. "What is it, any- 
way? Which planet does it come from?" 

"You'd be surprised— but I'll let Dr. Hawkins ex- 
plain that. He sent me to look for you when you didn't 
turn up. And I'm sorry that Cuthbert gave you such a 
fright. That door should have been locked, but some- 
one's been careless again." 

And that was all the consolation we got. I'm afraid 
our mishap had left us in the wrong mood for con- 
ducted tours and scientific explanations, but despite 
this bad start we found the Biology Labs quite inter- 
esting. Doctor Hawkins, who was in charge of re- 
search here, told us about the work that was going on 
and about some of the exciting prospects that low 
gravity had opened up in the way of lengthening the 
span of life. 

"Down on earth," he said, "our hearts have to fight 
gravity from the moment we're born. Blood is being 
continually pumped round the body, from head to foot 
and back again. Only when we're lying down does the 
heart really get a good rest, and even for the laziest 
people that's only about a third of their lives. But here, 
the heart has no work at all to do against gravity." 



120 



Islands in the Sky 



"Then why doesn't it race, like an engine that has 
no load?" asked Tim. 

"That's a good question. The answer is that nature's 
provided a wonderful automatic regulator. And there's 
still quite a bit of work to be done against friction, in 
the veins and arteries. We don't know yet just what 
difference zero gravity's going to make, because we 
haven't been in space long enough. But we think that 
the expectation of life out here ought to be well over a 
hundred years. It may even be as much as that on the 
moon. If we can prove this, it may start all the old folks 
rushing away from the earth! 

"Still, all this is guesswork. Now I'm going to show 
you something which I think is just as exciting." 

He had led us into a room whose walls consisted 
almost entirely of glass cages, full of creatures which 
at first sight I could not identify. Then I gave a gasp 
of astonishment. 

"They're flies! But where did they come from?" 

They were flies, all right. Only one thing was wrong 
—these flies had a wing span of a foot or more. 

Doctor Hawkins chuckled. 

"Lack of gravity, again, plus a few special hormones. 
Down on earth, you know, an animal's weight has a 
major effect on controlling its size. A fly this size 
couldn't possibly lift itself into the air. It's odd to 
watch these flying; you can see the wing beats quite 
easily." 

"What kind of flies are they?" asked Tim. 



World of Monsters 



121 



"Drosophila— fruit flies. They breed rapidly, and 
have been studied on earth for about a century and a 
half. I can trace this fellow's family tree back to around 
1920!" 

Personally, I could think of much more exciting 
occupations, but presumably the biologists knew what 
they were doing. Certainly the final result was highly 
impressive— and unpleasant. Flies aren't pretty crea- 
tures, even when normal size. 

"Now here's a bit of a contrast," said Dr. Hawkins, 
making some adjustments to a large projection micro- 
scope. "You can just about see this chap with the naked 
eye— in the ordinary way, that is." 

He flicked a switch, and a circle of light flashed on 
the screen. We were looking into a tiny drop of water, 
with strange blobs of jelly and minute living creatures 
drifting through the field of vision. And there in the 
center of the picture, waving its tentacles lazily, 
was . . . 

"Why," exclaimed Ron, "that's like the creature that 
caught us." 

"You're quite right," replied Dr. Hawkins. "It's 
called a hydra, and a big one is only about a tenth of 
an inch long. So you see Cuthbert didn't come from 
Mars or Venus, but was brought from Earth. Increas- 
ing his size is our most ambitious experiment yet." 

"But what's the idea?" asked Tim. 

"Well, you can study these creatures much more 
easily when they're large. Our knowledge of living 



122 



Islands in the Sky 



matter has been extended enormously since we've been 
able to do this sort of thing. I must admit, though, that 
we rather overdid it with Cuthbert. It takes a lot of 
effort to keep him alive, and we're not likely to try and 
beat this record." 

After that, we were taken to see Cuthbert again. The 
lights were switched on this time; it seemed that we'd 
stumbled into the lab during one of the short periods 
of artificial "night." Though we knew that the creature 
was safe, we wouldn't go very close. Tim Benton, how- 
ever, was persuaded to offer a piece of raw meat, which 
was grabbed by a slim tentacle and tucked into the 
top of the long, slender "trunk." 

"I should have explained," said Dr. Hawkins, "that 
hydras normally paralyze their victims by stinging 
them. There are poison buds all along those tentacles, 
but we've been able to neutralize them. Otherwise, 
Cuthbert would be as dangerous as a cageful of 
cobras." 

I felt like saying I didn't really think much of their 
taste in pets, but I remembered in time that we were 
guests. 

Another high light of our stay at the hospital was 
the visit to the Gravity Section. I've already mentioned 
that some of the space stations produce a kind of 
artificial gravity by spinning slowly on their axes. In- 
side the hospital they had a huge drum, or centrifuge, 
that did the same thing. We were given a ride in it, 



World of Monsiers 



123 



partly for fun and partly as a serious test of our re- 
actions to having weight again. 

The gravity chamber was a cylinder about fifty feet 
in diameter, supported on pivots at either end and 
driven by electric motors. We entered through a hatch 
in the side and found ourselves in a small room that 
would have seemed perfectly normal down on earth. 
There were pictures hanging from the walls, and even 
an electric light fixture suspended from the "ceiling." 
Everything had been done to create an impression, as 
far as the eye was concerned, that "up" and "down" 
existed again. 

We sat in the comfortable chairs and waited. Pres- 
ently there was a gentle vibration and a sense of move- 
ment: the chamber was beginning to turn. Very slowly, 
a feeling of heaviness began to steal over me. My legs 
and arms required an effort to move them: I was a 
slave of gravity again, no longer able to glide through 
the air as freely as a bird. . . . 

A concealed loud-speaker gave us our instructions. 

"We'll hold the speed constant now. Get up and 
walk around— but be careful." 

I rose from my seat and almost fell back again with 
the effort. 

"Wow!" I exclaimed. "How much weight have they 
given us? I feel as if I'm on Jupiter!" 

My words must have been picked up by the oper- 
ator, because the loud-speaker gave a chuckle. 



124 



Islands in the Sky 



"You're just half the weight you were back on earth. 
But it seems considerable, doesn't it, after you've had 
none at all for a couple of weeks!" 

It was a thought that made me feel rather unhappy. 
When I got down to earth again, I'd weigh twice as 
much as this! Our instructor must have guessed my 
thoughts. 

"No need to worry. You get used to it quickly 
enough on the way out, and it will be the same on the 
way back. You'll just have to take things easy for a few 
days when you get down to earth, and try and remem- 
ber that you can't jump out of top-floor windows and 
float gently to the ground." 

Put that way, it sounded silly, but this was just the 
sort of thing I'd grown accustomed to doing here. I 
wondered how many spacemen broke their necks 
when they got back to earth! 

In the centrifuge, we tried out all the tricks that were 
impossible under zero gravity. It was funny to watch 
liquids pour in a thin stream and remain quietly at the 
bottom of a glass. I kept on making little jumps, just for 
the novel experience of coming down quickly again 
in the same place. 

Finally we were ordered back to our seats, the 
brakes were put on, and the spin of the chamber was 
stopped. We were weightless again— back to normal! 

I wish we could have stayed in the Hospital Station 
for a week or so, in order to explore the place thor- 
oughly. It had everything that the Inner Station 



World of Monsters 



125 



lacked, and my companions, who hadn't been to earth 
for months, appreciated the luxury even more than I 
did. It was strange seeing shops and gardens and even 
going to the theater. That was an unforgettable ex- 
perience. Thanks to the absence of gravity, one could 
pack a large audience into a small space and every- 
one could get a good view. But it created a very diffi- 
cult problem for the producer, as he had to give an 
illusion of gravity somehow. It wouldn't do in a 
Shakespeare play for all the characters to be floating 
around in mid-air. So the actors had to use magnetic 
shoes— a favorite dodge of the old science fiction 
writers, though this was the only time I ever found 
them used in reality. 

The play we saw was Macbeth. Personally, I don't 
care for Shakespeare and I went along only because 
we'd been invited and it would have been rude to 
stay away. But I was glad I went, if only because it 
was interesting to see how the patients were enjoy- 
ing themselves. And not many people can claim that 
they've seen Lady Macbeth, in the sleepwalking scene, 
coming down the stairs with magnetic shoes! 

Another reason why I was in no great hurry to re- 
turn to the Inner Station was simply this— in three days' 
time I'd have to go aboard the freighter scheduled to 
take me home. Although I'd been mighty lucky to get 
out here to the Space Hospital, there were still many 
things I hadn't seen. There were the Met Stations, the 
great observatories with their huge, floating telescopes 



126 



Islands in Ihe Sky 



and the Relay Stations, another seven thousand miles 
farther out into space. Well, they would simply have 
to wait for another time. 

Before the ferry rocket arrived to take us home, we 
had the satisfaction of knowing that our mission had 
been successful. The patient was off the danger list, 
and had a good chance of making a complete recovery. 
But— and this certainly gave the whole thing an ironic 
twist— it wouldn't be safe for him to go down to earth. 
He'd come all these scores of millions of miles for 
nothing. The best he could do would be to look down 
on earth through observation telescopes, watching the 
green fields on which he could never walk again. When 
his convalescence was over, he'd have to go back to 
Mars and its lower gravity. 

The ferry rocket that came up to fetch us home 
had been diverted from its normal run between the 
Observatory Stations. When we went aboard, Tim 
Benton was still arguing with the commander. No- 
arguing wasn't the right word. No one did that with 
Commander Doyle. But he was saying, very wistfully, 
that it really was a great pity that we couldn't go 
back in the Morning Star. The commander only 
grinned. "Wait until you see the report of her over- 
haul," he advised. "Then you may change your mind. 
I bet she needs new tube linings, at the very least. 
I'll feel a bit happier in a ship that's a hundred years 
younger!" 



World of Monsters 



127 



Still, as things turned out, I'm pretty sure the com- 
mander wished he'd listened to us. . . . 

It was the first time I'd been aboard one of the 
low-powered inter-orbit ferries, unless one includes 
our home-built Skylark of Space in this category. The 
control cabin was much like that of any other space- 
ship, but from the outside the vessel looked very 
peculiar. It had been built here in space and, of course, 
had no streamlining or fins. The cabin was roughly 
egg-shaped, and connected by three open girders to 
the fuel tanks and rocket motors. Most of the freight 
was not taken inside the ship, but was simply lashed 
to what were rather appropriately called the "luggage 
racks," a series of wire-mesh nets supported on struts. 
For stores that had to be kept under normal pres- 
sure, there was a small hold with a second air lock 
just behind the control cabin. The whole ship had 
certainly been built for efficiency rather than beauty. 

The pilot was waiting for us when we went aboard, 
and Commander Doyle spent some time discussing 
our course with him. 

"That's not his job," Norman whispered in my ear, 
"but the old boy's so glad to be out in space again 
that he can't help it." I was going to say that I thought 
the commander spent all his time in space; then I 
realized that from some points of view his office aboard 
the Inner Station wasn't so very different from an 
office down on earth. 

We had nearly an hour before take-off, ample time 



128 



tdands in the Sky 



for all the checks and last-minute adjustments that 
would be needed. I got into the bunk nearest to the 
observation port, so that I could look back at the hos- 
pital as we dropped away from its orbit and fell down 
toward earth. It was hard to believe that this great 
blossom of glass and plastic— floating here in space 
with the sun pouring into its wards, laboratories 
and observation decks— was really spinning round the 
world at eight thousand miles an hour. As I waited 
for the voyage to begin, I remembered the attempts 
I'd had to explain the space stations to Mom. Like 
a lot of people, she could never really understand why 
they "didn't fall down." 

"Look, Mom," I'd said, "they're moving mighty fast, 
going around the earth in a big circle. And when any- 
thing moves like this, you get centrifugal force. It's 
just the same when you whirl a stone at the end of 
a string." 

"I don't whirl stones on the end of strings," said 
Mom, "and I hope you won't either, at least not in- 
doors." 

"I was only giving an example," I had told her. 
"It's the one they always use at school. Just as the 
stone can't fly away because of the pull in the string, 
so a space station has to stay there because of the 
pull of gravity. Once it's given the right speed, it'll 
stay there forever without using any power. It can't 
lose speed because there's no air resistance. Of course, 
the speed's got to be calculated carefully. Near the 



World of Monsters 



12? 



earth, where gravity's powerful, a station has to move 
fast to stay up. It's like tying your stone on to a short 
piece of string; you have to whirl it quickly. But a 
long way out, where gravity's weaker, the stations can 
move slowly." 

"I thought it was something like that," she'd re- 
plied. "But what worries me is this— suppose one of 
the stations did lose a bit of speed. Wouldn't it come 
falling down? The whole thing looks dangerous to me. 
It seems a sort of balancing act. If anything goes 
wrong . . ." 

I hadn't known the answer then, so I'd only been 
able to say: "Well, the moon doesn't fall down, and 
it stays up just the same way." It wasn't until I'd got 
to the Inner Station that I learned the answer, though 
I should have been able to work it out for myself. 
If the velocity of a space station did drop a bit, it 
would simply move into a closer orbit. You'd have 
to carve off quite a lot of its speed before it came 
dangerously close to earth, and it would take a vast 
amount of rocket braking to do this. It couldn't pos- 
sibly happen by accident. 

Now I looked at the clock. Another thirty minutes 
to go. Funny— why do I feel so sleepy now? I had 
a good rest last night. Perhaps the excitement's been 
a bit too much. Well, let's just relax and take things 
easy— there's nothing to do until we reach the Inner 
Station in four hours' time. Or is it four days? I really 
can't remember, but, anyway, it isn't important. Noth- 



130 



Islands in Ihe Sky 



ing is important any more, not even the fact that 
everything around me is half-hidden in a pink mist. . . . 

Then I heard Commander Doyle shouting. He 
sounded miles away, and though I had an idea that 
the words he was calling should mean something, I 
didn't know what it was. They were still ringing vainly 
in my ears when I blacked out completely: "Emer- 
gency Oxygen!" 



Chapter 8 

Into ihe Abyss 



T was one of those peculiar dreams when you know 
you're dreaming and can't do anything about it. 
Everything that had happened to me in the last 
few weeks was all muddled up together, as well as 
flash backs from earlier experiences. Sometimes things 
were quite the wrong way round. I was down on earth, 
but weightless, floating like a cloud over valleys and 
hills. Or else I was up in the Inner Station, but had to 
struggle against gravity with every movement I made. 

The dream ended in nightmare. I was taking a short 
cut through the Inner Station, using an illegal but 
widely practiced method that Norman Powell had 
shown me. Linking the central part of the station with 
its outlying pressurized chambers are ventilating ducts, 
wide enough to take a man. The air moves through 

131 



132 



Islands in the Sky 



them at quite a speed, and there are places where one 
can enter and get a free ride. It's an exciting experi- 
ence, and you have to know just what you're doing or 
you may miss the exit and have to buck the air stream 
to find a way back. Well, in this dream I was riding 
the air stream and had lost my way. There ahead of 
me I could see the great blades of the ventilating fan, 
sucking me down toward them. And the protecting 
grille was gone! In a few seconds I'd be sliced like 
a side of bacon. . . . 

"He's all right," I heard someone say. "He was only 
out for a minute. Give him another sniff." 

A jet of cold gas played over my face, and I tried 
to jerk my head out of the way. Then I opened my 
eyes and realized where I was. 

"What happened?" I asked, still feeling rather dazed. 

Tim Benton was sitting beside me, an oxygen cylin- 
der in his hand. He didn't look in the least upset. 

"We're not quite sure," he said. "But it's O.K. now. 
A change-over valve must have jammed in the oxy- 
gen supply when one of the tanks got empty. You 
were the only one who passed out, and we've man- 
aged to clear the trouble by bashing the oxygen dis- 
tributor with a hammer. Crude, but it usually works. 
Of course, it will have to be stripped down when we 
get back, and someone will have to find out why the 
alarm didn't work." 

I still felt rather muzzy and a little ashamed of my- 
self for fainting, though that wasn't the kind of thing 



Into the Abyss 



133 



anyone could help. And, after all, I had acted as a 
sort of human guinea pig to warn the others. Or per- 
haps a better analogy would be one of the canaries 
the old-time miners took with them to test the air 
underground. 

"Does this sort of thing happen very often?" I asked. 

"Very seldom," replied Norman Powell. For once 
he looked serious. "But there are so many gadgets in 
a spaceship that you've always got to keep on your 
toes. In a hundred years we haven't got all the bugs 
out of spaceflight. If it isn't one thing, it's another." 

"Don't be so glum, Norman," said Tim. "We've had 
our share of trouble for this trip. It'll be plain sailing 
now." 

As it turned out, that remark was about the most 
unfortunate that Tim ever made. I'm sure the others 
never gave him a chance to forget it. 

We were now several miles from the hospital, far 
enough away to avoid our jet doing any damage to 
it. The pilot had set his controls and was waiting for 
the calculated moment to start firing, and everyone 
else was lying down in his bunk. The acceleration 
would be too weak to be anything of a strain, but 
we were supposed to keep out of the pilot's way at 
blast-off and there was simply nowhere else to go. 

The motors roared for nearly two minutes. At the 
end of that time the hospital was a tiny, brilliant toy 
twenty or thirty miles away. If the pilot had done 
his job properly, we were now dropping down on a 



134 



Islands in the Sky 



long curve that would take us back to the Inner Sta- 
tion. We had nothing to do but sit and wait for the 
next three and a half hours, while the earth grew big- 
ger and bigger until it once more filled almost half 
the sky. 

On the way out, because of our patient we hadn't 
been able to talk, but there was nothing to stop us 
now. There was a curious kind of elation, even light- 
headedness, about our little party. If I'd stopped to 
think about it, I should have realized that there was 
something odd in the way we were all laughing and 
joking. At the time, though, it seemed natural enough. 

Even the commander unbent more than I'd ever 
known him to before-not that he was ever really 
very formidable, once you'd got used to him. But he 
never talked about himself, and back at the Inner Sta- 
tion no one would have dreamed of asking him to 
tell the story of his part in the first expedition to Mer- 
cury. And if they had, he certainly wouldn't have done 
so— yet he did now. He grumbled for a while, but not 
very effectively. Then he began to talk. 

"Where shall I start?" he mused. "Well, there's not 
much to say about the voyage itself-it was just like 
any other trip. No one else had ever been so near the 
sun before, but the mirror-plating of our ship worked 
perfectly and stopped us getting too hot by bouncing 
eighty percent of the sun's rays straight off again. 

"Our instructions were not to attempt a landing 
unless we were quite sure it would be safe. So we 



Into the Abyss 135 

got into an orbit a thousand miles up and began to 
do a careful survey. 

"You know, of course, that Mercury always keeps 
one face turned toward the sun, so that it hasn't days 
or nights as we have on earth. One side is in perpetual 
darkness, the other in blazing light. However, there's 
a narrow 'twilight' zone between the two hemispheres, 
where the temperature isn't too extreme. We planned 
to come down somewhere in this region, if we could 
find a good landing place. 

"We had our first surprise when we looked at the 
day side of the planet. Somehow, everyone had always 
imagined that it would be very much like the moon- 
covered with jagged craters and mountain ranges. But 
it wasn't. There are no mountains at all on the part 
of Mercury directly facing the sun, only a few low 
hills and great, cracked plains. When we thought about 
it, the reason was obvious. The temperature down 
there in that perpetual sunlight is over seven hundred 
degrees Fahrenheit. That's much too low to melt rock, 
but it can soften it, and gravity had done the rest. 
Over millions of years, any mountains that might have 
existed on the day side of Mercury had slowly col- 
lapsed, just as a block of pitch flows on a hot day. 
Only round the rim of the night land, where the tem- 
perature was far lower, were there any real mountains. 

"Our second surprise was to discover that there were 
lakes down in that blazing inferno. Of course, they 
weren't lakes of water, but of molten metal. Since no 



136 



Islands in /he Sky 



one has been able to reach them yet, we don't know 
what metals they are— probably lead and tin, with 
other things mixed up with them. Lakes of solder, in 
fact! They may be pretty valuable one day, if we can 
discover how to tap them." 

The commander nodded his head thoughtfully, be- 
fore continuing. 

"As you'll guess from this, we weren't anxious to 
land anywhere in the middle of the day side. So when 
we'd completed a photographic map we had a look 
at the night land. 

"The only way we could do that was to illuminate 
it with flares. We went as close as we dared, less than 
a hundred miles up, and shot off billion candle power 
markers one after another, taking photographs as we 
did so. The flares, of course, shared our speed and 
traveled along with us until they burned out. 

"It was a strange experience, knowing that we were 
shedding light on a land that had never seen the sun— 
a land where the only light for maybe millions of years 
had been that of the stars. If there was any life down 
there— which seemed about as unlikely as anything 
could be— it must be having quite a surprise! At least, 
that was my first thought as I watched our flares blast- 
ing that hidden land with their brilliance. Then I de- 
cided that any creatures of the night land would 
probably be completely blind, like the fish of our own 
ocean depths. Still, all this was fantasy. Nothing could 
possibly live down there in that perpetual darkness, 



Into the Abyss 



137 



at a temperature of almost four hundred degrees below 
freezing point. We know better now, of course." He 
smiled. 

"It was nearly a week before we risked a landing, 
and by that time we'd mapped the surface of the 
planet pretty thoroughly. The night land, and much 
of the twilight zone, is fairly mountainous, but there 
were plenty of flat regions that looked promising. We 
finally chose a large, shallow bowl on the edge of 
the day side. 

"There's a trace of atmosphere on Mercury, but not 
enough for wings or parachutes to be of any use. So 
we had to land by rocket braking, just as you do on 
the moon. However often you do it, a rocket touch- 
down is always a bit unnerving, especially on a new 
world where you can't be perfectly sure that what 
looks like rock is anything of the sort. 

"Well, it tvas rock, not one of those treacherous 
dustdrifts they have on the moon. The landing gear 
took up the impact so thoroughly that we hardly 
noticed it in the cabin. Then the motors cut out auto- 
matically and we were down, the first men to land 
on Mercury. The first living creatures, probably, ever 
to touch the planet. 

"I said that we'd come down at the frontiers of 
the day side. That meant that the sun was a great, 
blinding disk right on the horizon. It was strange, see- 
ing it almost fixed there, never rising or setting though, 
because Mercury has a very eccentric orbit, the sun 



138 



Islands in the Sky 



does wobble to and fro through a considerable arc 
in the sky. Still, it never dropped below the horizon, 
and I always had the feeling that it was late after- 
noon and that night would fall shortly. It was hard 
to realize that 'night' and 'day' didn't mean anything 
here. . . . 

"Exploring a new world sounds exciting, and so it 
is, I suppose. But it's also hard work— and dangerous, 
especially on a planet like Mercury. Our first job was 
to see that the ship couldn't get overheated, and we'd 
brought along some protective awnings for this pur- 
pose. Our 'sunshades,' we called them. They looked 
peculiar, but they did the job properly. We even had 
portable ones, like flimsy tents, to protect us if we 
stayed out in the open for any length of time. They 
were made of white nylon and reflected most of the 
sunlight, though they let through enough to provide 
all the warmth and light we wanted. 

"We spent several weeks reconnoitering the day 
side, traveling up to twenty miles from the ship. That 
may not sound very far, but it's quite a distance when 
you've got to wear a space suit and carry all your 
supplies. We collected hundreds of mineral specimens 
and took thousands of readings with our instruments, 
sending back all the results we could by tight-beam 
radio to earth. It was impossible to go far enough 
into the day side to reach the lakes we'd seen. The 
nearest was over eight hundred miles away, and we 
couldn't afford the rocket fuel to go hopping around 



Into Ihe Abyss 



139 



the planet. In any case, it would have been far too 
dangerous to go into that blazing furnace with our 
present, untried equipment." 

The commander paused, staring thoughtfully into 
space as if he could see beyond our cramped little 
cabin to the burning deserts of that distant world. 

"Yes," he continued at last, "Mercury's quite a chal- 
lenge. We can deal with cold easily enough, but heat's 
another problem. I suppose I shouldn't say that, be- 
cause it was the cold that got me, not the heat. . . . 

"The one thing we never expected to find on Mer- 
cury was life, though the moon should have taught 
us a lesson. No one had expected to find it there, either. 
And if anyone had said to me, 'Assuming that there 
is life on Mercury, where would you hope to find it?' 
I'd have replied, 'Why, in the twilight zone, of course.' 
I'd have been wrong again. 

"Though no one was very keen on the idea, we 
decided we ought to have at least one good look at 
the night land. We had to move the ship about a hun- 
dred miles to get clear of the twilight zone, and we 
landed on a low, flat hill a few miles from an inter- 
esting-looking range of mountains. We spent an anx- 
ious twenty-four hours before we were sure that it 
was safe to stay. The rock on which the ship was 
standing had a temperature of minus three hundred 
and fifty degrees, but our heaters could handle the 
situation. Even without them on, the temperature in 
the ship dropped very slowly, because there was a 



140 



Islands in ihe Sky 



near vacuum around us and our silvered walls re- 
flected back most of the heat we'd lose by radiation. 
We were living, in fact, inside a large thermos flask, 
and our bodies were also generating quite a bit of heat. 

"Still, we couldn't learn much merely by sitting in- 
side the ship; we had to put on our space suits and 
go out into the open. The suits we were using had 
been tested pretty thoroughly on the moon during the 
lunar night, which is almost as cold as it is on Mer- 
cury. But no test is ever quite like the real thing. That 
was why three of us went out. If one man got into 
trouble, the other two could get him back to the ship— 
we hoped. 

"I was in that first party. We walked slowly round 
for about thirty minutes, taking things easily and re- 
porting to the ship by radio. It wasn't as dark as we'd 
expected, thanks to Venus. She was hanging up there 
against the stars, incredibly brilliant and casting easily 
visible shadows. Indeed, she was too blight to look 
at directly for more than a few seconds, and then, 
using a filter to cut down the glare, one could easily 
see the tiny disk of the planet. 

"The earth and moon were also visible, forming a 
beautiful double star just above the horizon. They also 
gave quite a lot of light, so we were never in com- 
plete darkness. But neither Venus nor earth gave the 
slightest heat to this frozen land. 

"We couldn't lose the ship, because it was the most 
prominent object for miles around and we'd also fixed 



Into the Abyss 



141 



a powerful beacon on its nose. With some difficulty 
we broke off a few small specimens of rock and car- 
ried them back with us. As soon as we took them into 
the air lock, an extraordinary thing happened. They 
became instantly covered with frost, and drops of 
liquid began to form on them, dripping off to the floor 
and evaporating again. It was the air in the ship con- 
densing on the bitterly cold fragments of stone. We 
had to wait half an hour before they had become 
sufficiently warm to handle. 

"Once we were sure that our suits could withstand 
the conditions in the night land, we made longer trips, 
though we were never away from the ship for more 
than a couple of hours. We hadn't reached the moun- 
tains yet— they were just out of range. I used to spend 
a good deal of time examining them through the elec- 
tronic telescope in the ship. There was enough light 
to make this possible. 

"Then, one day, I saw something moving. I was so 
astonished that for a moment I sat frozen at the tele- 
scope, gaping foolishly through the eyepiece. Then I 
regained enough presence of mind to switch on the 
camera. 

"You must have seen the film. It's not very good, 
of course, because the light was so weak. But it shows 
the mountain wall with a sort of landslide in the fore- 
ground and something large and white scrabbling 
round among the rocks. When I saw it first it looked 
like a ghost and I don't mind saying that it scared 



142 



Islands in Ihe Sky 



me. Then the thrill of discovery banished every other 
feeling, and I concentrated on observing as much as 
I could. 

"It wasn't a great deal, but I got the general im- 
pression of a roughly spherical body with at least four 
legs. Then it vanished, and it never reappeared. 

"Of course, we dropped everything else and had a 
council of war. It was lucky for me that I'd taken 
the film, as otherwise everyone would have accused 
me of dreaming. We all agreed that we must try and 
get near the creature: the only question was whether 
it was dangerous. 

"We had no weapons of any kind, but the ship car- 
ried a flare pistol which was intended for signaling. 
If it did nothing else, this should frighten any beast 
that attacked us. I carried the pistol, and my two com- 
panions— Borrell, the navigator, and Glynne, the radio 
operator, had a couple of stout bars. We also carried 
cameras and lighting equipment in the hope of get- 
ting some really good pictures. We felt that three was 
about the right number for the expedition. Fewer 
might not be safe and— well, if the thing was really 
dangerous, sending the whole crew would only make 
matters worse. 

"It was five miles to the mountains, and it took us 
about an hour to reach them. The ship checked our 
course over the radio and we had an observer at the 
telescope, keeping a search in the neighborhood so 
that we'd have some warning if the creature turned 



Into the Abyss 



143 



up. I don't think we felt in any danger; we were all 
much too excited for that. And it was difficult to see 
what harm any animal could do to us inside the armor 
of our space suits as long as the helmets didn't get 
cracked. The low gravity and the extra strength that 
it gave us added to our confidence. 

"At last we reached the rock slide and made a pe- 
culiar discovery. Something had been collecting stones 
and smashing them up; there were piles of broken 
fragments lying around. It was difficult to see what 
this meant, unless the creature we were seeking 
actually found its food among the rocks. 

"I collected a few samples for analysis while Glynne 
photographed our discovery and reported to the ship. 
Then we started to hunt around, keeping quite close 
together in case of trouble. The rock slide was about 
a mile across, and it seemed that the whole face of 
the mountain had crumbled and slid downward. We 
wondered what could have caused this, in the ab- 
sence of any weather. Since there was no erosion, we 
couldn't guess how long ago the slip had occurred. 
It might have been a million years old— or a billion. 

"Imagine us, then, scrambling across that jumble 
of broken rocks, with Earth and Venus hanging over- 
head like brilliant beacons and the lights of our ship 
burning reassuringly down on the horizon. By now I 
had practically decided that our quarry must be some 
kind of rock-eater, if only because there seemed no 
other kind of food on this desolate planet. I wished 



144 



Islands in the Sky 



I knew enough about minerals to determine what 
substance this was. 

"Then Glynne's excited shout rang in my earphones. 

" 'There it is!' he yelled. 'By that cliff over there!' 

"We just stood and stared, and I had my first good 
look at a Mercurian. It was more like a giant spider 
than anything else, or perhaps one of those crabs with 
long, spindly legs. Its body was a sphere about a yard 
across and was a silvery white. At first we thought it 
had four legs, but later we discovered that there were 
actually eight, a reserve set being carried tucked up 
close to the body. They were brought into action 
when the incredible cold of the rocks began to creep 
too far up the thick layers of insulating horn which 
formed its feet or hoofs. When the Mercurian got 
cold feet, it switched to another pair! 

"It also had two handling limbs, which at the 
moment were busily engaged in searching among 
the rocks. They ended in elaborate, horny claws or 
pincers which looked as if they could be dangerous 
in a fight. There was no real head, but only a tiny 
bulge on the top of the spherical body. Later we dis- 
covered that this housed two large eyes, for use in 
the dim starlight of the night land and two small ones 
for excursions into the more brilliantly illuminated 
twilight zone— the sensitive large eyes then being kept 
tightly shut. 

"We watched, fascinated, while the ungainly crea- 
ture scuttled among the rocks, pausing now and again 



Into the Abyss 



145 



to seize a specimen and smash it to powder with those 
efficient-looking claws. Then something that might 
have been a tongue would flash out, too swiftly for the 
eye to follow, and the powder would be gobbled up. 

" 'What do you think it's after?' asked Borrell. 'That 
rock seems pretty soft. I wonder if it's some kind of 
chalk?' 

" 'Hardly,' I replied. 'It's the wrong color and chalk's 
only formed at the bottom of seas, anyway. There's 
never been free water on Mercury." 

" 'Shall we see how close we can get?' said Glynne. 
'I can't take a good photo from here. It's an ugly- 
looking beast, but I don't think it can do us any harm. 
It'll probably run a mile as soon as it sees us.' 

"I gripped the flare pistol more firmly and said, 
'O.K.— let's go. But move slowly, and stop as soon as 
it spots us.' 

"We were within a hundred feet before the crea- 
ture showed any signs of interest in us. Then it pivoted 
on its stalklike legs and I could see its great eyes look- 
ing at us in the faint moonglow of Venus. Glynne 
said, 'Shall I use the flash? I can't take a good pic- 
ture in this light.' 

"I hesitated, then told him to go ahead. The crea- 
ture gave a start as the brief explosion of light splashed 
over the landscape, and I heard Glynne's sigh of relief. 
'That's one picture in the bag, anyway! Wonder if I 
can get a close-up?' 

" 'No,' I ordered. 'That would certainly scare it or 



146 



Islands in the Sky 



annoy it, which might be worse. I don't like the look 
of those claws. Let's try and prove that we're friends. 
You stay here and I'll go forward. Then it won't think 
we're ganging up on it.' 

"Well, I still think the idea was good, but I didn't 
know much about the habits of Mercurians in those 
days. As I walked slowly forward the creature seemed 
to stiffen, like a dog over a bone— and for the same 
reason, I guessed. It stretched itself up to its full 
height, which was nearly eight feet, and then began 
to sway back and forth slightly, looking very much 
like a captive balloon in a breeze. 

" 'Come back!' advised Borrell. 'It's annoyed. Better 
not take any chances.' 

" 'I don't intend to,' I replied. 'It's not easy to walk 
backward in a space suit, but I'm going to try it now.' 

"I'd retreated a few yards when, without moving 
from its position, the creature suddenly whipped out 
one of its arms and grabbed a stone. The motion was 
so human that I knew what was coming and instinc- 
tively covered my visor with my arm. A moment later 
something struck the lower part of my suit with a 
terrific crash. It didn't hurt me, but the whole cara- 
pace vibrated for a moment like a gong. For an anxious 
few seconds I held my breath, waiting for the fatal 
hiss of air. But the suit held, though I could see a 
deep dent on the left thigh. The next time I might 
not be so lucky, so I decided to use my 'weapon' as 
a distraction. 



Into the Abyss 



147 



"The brilliant white flare floated slowly up toward 
the stars, flooding the landscape with harsh light and 
putting distant Venus to shame. And then something 
happened that we weren't to understand until much 
later. I'd noticed a pair of bulges on either side of 
the Mercurian's body, and as we watched they opened 
up like the wing cases of a beetle. Two wide, black 
wings unfurled— things, on this almost airless world! 
I was so astonished that for a moment I was too sur- 
prised to continue my retreat. Then the flare slowly 
burned itself out, and as it guttered to extinction the 
velvet wings folded themselves and were tucked back 
into their cases. 

"The creature made no attempt to follow, and we 
met no others on this occasion. As you can guess, we 
were sorely puzzled, and our colleagues back in the 
ship could hardly credit their ears when we told them 
what had happened. Now that we know the answer, 
of course, it seems simple enough. It always does. 

"Those weren't really wings that we'd watched un- 
fold, though ages ago, when Mercury had an atmos- 
phere, they had been. The creature I'd discovered was 
one of the most marvelous examples of adaptation 
known in the solar system. Its normal home is the 
twilight zone, but because the minerals it feeds on 
have been exhausted there it has to go foraging far 
into the night land. Its whole body has evolved to 
resist that incredible cold. That is the reason why it's 
silvery white, because this color radiates the least 



148 



Islands in the Sky 



amount of heat. Even so, it can't stay in the night 
land indefinitely, but has to return to the twilight zone 
at intervals, just as on our own world a whale has 
to come up for air. When it sees the sun again, it 
spreads those black wings, which are really heat ab- 
sorbers. I suppose my flare must have triggered off 
this reaction— or maybe even the small amount of heat 
given off by it was worth grabbing. 

"The search for food must be desperate for nature 
to have taken such drastic steps. The Mercurians 
aren't really vicious beasts, but they have to fight 
among themselves for survival. Since the hard casing 
of the body is almost invulnerable, they go for the 
legs. A crippled night-lander is doomed, because he 
can't reach the twilight zone again before his stores 
of heat are exhausted. So they've learned to throw 
stones at each other's legs with great accuracy. My 
space suit must have puzzled the specimen I met, but 
it did its best to cripple me. As I soon discovered, it 
succeeded too well. 

"We still don't know much about these creatures, 
despite the efforts that have been made to study them. 
And I've got a theory I'd like to see investigated. It 
seems to me that, just as some of the Mercurians have 
evolved so that they can forage into the cold of the 
night land, there may be another variety that's gone 
into the burning day land. I wonder what they'll be 
like?" 

The commander stopped talking. I got the impres- 



info the Abyss 



149 



sion that he didn't really want to continue. But our 
waiting silence was too much for him, and he car- 
ried on. 

"We were walking back slowly to the ship, still 
arguing about the creature we'd met, when suddenly 
I realized that something had gone wrong. My feet 
were getting cold, very cold. The heat was ebbing 
out of my space suit, sucked away by the frozen rocks 
beneath me. 

"I knew at once what had happened. The blow my 
suit had received had broken the leg heater-circuits. 
There was nothing that could be done until I got back 
to the ship and I had four miles still ahead of me. 

"I told the others what had happened, and we put 
on all the speed we could. Every time my feet touched 
the ground I could feel that appalling chill striking 
deeper. After a while all sensation was lost; that at 
least was something to be thankful for. My legs were 
just wooden stumps with no feeling at all, and I was 
still two miles from the ship when I couldn't move 
them any more. The joints of the suit were freezing 
cold. 

"After that my companions had to carry me, and 
I must have lost consciousness for a while. I revived 
once while we were still some way from the end of 
that journey, and for a moment I thought I must be 
delirious. For the land all around me was ablaze with 
light. Brilliant colored streamers flickered across the 
sky and overhead, waves of crimson fire marched be- 



150 



Islands in the Sky 



neath the stars. In my dazed state, it was some time 
before I realized what had happened. The Aurora, 
which is far more brilliant on Mercury than on the 
earth, had suddenly decided to switch on one of its 
displays. It was ironic, though at the time I could 
scarcely appreciate it. For, although the land all 
around me seemed to be burning, I was swiftly freez- 
ing to death. 

"Well, we made it somehow, though I don't remem- 
ber ever entering the ship. When I came back to con- 
sciousness, we were on the way back to earth. But 
my legs were still on Mercury." 

No one said anything for a long time. Then the 
pilot glanced at his chronometer and exclaimed, "Wow! 
I should have made my course check ten minutes 
ago!" That broke the suspense, and our imaginations 
came rushing back from Mercury. 

For the next few minutes the pilot was busy with 
the ship's position-finding gear. The first space navi- 
gators had only the stars to guide them, but now there 
were all sorts of radio and radar aids. One only both- 
ered about the rather tedious astronomical methods 
when a long way from home, out of range of the earth 
stations. 

I was watching the pilot's fingers flying across the 
calculator keyboard, envying his effortless skill, when 
suddenly he froze over his desk. Then, very carefully, 
he pecked at the keys and set up his calculations again. 
An answer came up on the register, and I knew that 



Into the Abyss 



151 



something was wrong! For a moment the pilot stared 
at his figures as if unable to believe them. Then he 
loosened himself from the straps holding him to his 
seat and swiftly moved over to the nearest observa- 
tion port. 

I was the only one who noticed. The others were 
now quietly reading in their bunks or trying to snatch 
some sleep. There was a port only a few feet away 
from me and I headed for it. Out there in space was 
the earth, nearly full— the planet toward which we 
were slowly falling. 

Then an icy band seemed to grip my chest and for 
a moment I completely stopped breathing. By this 
time, I knew, earth should already be appreciably 
larger as we dropped in from the orbit of the hos- 
pital. Yet unless my eyes deceived me, it was smaller 
than when I had last seen it. I looked again at the 
pilot, and his face confirmed my fears. 

We were heading out into space. 



Chapter 9 The Shot from the Moon 



"| ommander Doyle," said the pilot, in a very small 
voice. "Will you come here a minute?" The com- 
j mander stirred in his bunk. 

"Confound it, I was nearly asleep!" 
"I'm sorry, but— well, there's been an accident. 
We're— we're in an escape orbit." 
"What!" 

The roar woke up everyone else. With a mighty 
heave, the commander left his bunk and headed for 
the control desk. There was a rapid conference with 
the unhappy pilot; then the commander ordered: "Get 
me the nearest Relay Station. I'm taking over." 

"What happened?" I whispered to Tim Benton. 

152 



The Shot from the Moon 



153 



"I think I know," said Tim, "but wait a minute be- 
fore we jump to conclusions." 

It was almost a quarter of an hour before anyone 
bothered to explain things to me, a quarter of an hour 
of furious activity, radio calls, and lightning calcula- 
tions. Then Norman Powell, who like me had nothing 
to do but watch, took pity on my ignorance. 

"This ship's got a curse on it," he said in disgust. 
"The pilot has made the one navigation error you'd 
think was impossible. He should have cut our speed 
by point nine miles a second. Instead, he applied 
power in exactly the wrong direction and we've gained 
speed by that amount. So instead of falling earthward, 
we're heading out into space." 

Even to me, it seemed hard to imagine that any- 
one could make such an extraordinary mistake. Later, 
I discovered that it was one of those things, like land- 
ing an aircraft with wheels up, that isn't as difficult 
to do as it sounds. Aboard a spaceship in free orbit, 
there's no way of telling in which direction and at 
what speed you're moving. Everything has to be done 
by instruments and calculations, and if at a certain 
stage a minus sign is taken for a plus, then it's easy 
to point the ship in exactly the wrong direction before 
applying power. 

Of course, one is supposed to make other checks 
to prevent such mistakes. Somehow they hadn't 
worked this time or the pilot hadn't applied them. It 
wasn't until a long time later that we found the full 



154 



Islands in the Sky 



reason. The jammed oxygen valve, not the unhappy 
pilot, was the real culprit. I'd been the only one who 
had actually fainted, but the others had all been suf- 
fering from oxygen starvation. It's a very dangerous 
complaint, because you don't realize that there's any- 
thing wrong with you. Indeed, you can be making all 
sorts of stupid mistakes, yet feel that you're right on 
top of your job. 

But it was not much use finding out why the acci- 
dent had happened. The problem now was— what 
should be done next? 

The extra speed we'd been given was just enough 
to put us into an escape orbit. In other words, we 
were traveling so fast that the earth could never pull 
us back. We were heading out into space, somewhere 
beyond the orbit of the moon, and wouldn't know our 
exact path until we got HAVOC to work it out for 
us. Commander Doyle had radioed our position and 
velocity, and now we had to wait for further in- 
structions. 

The situation was serious, but not hopeless. We still 
had a considerable amount of fuel— the reserve in- 
tended for the approach to the Inner Station. If we 
used it now, we could at least prevent ourselves flying 
away from earth, but we should then be traveling in 
a new orbit that might not take us anywhere near one 
of the space stations. Whatever happened, we had to 
get fresh fuel from somewhere, and as quickly as pos- 
sible. The short-range ship in which we were traveling 



The Shot from the Moon 



155 



wasn't designed for long excursions into space and 
carried only a limited oxygen supply. We had enough 
for about a hundred hours. If help couldn't reach us 
by that time, it would be just too bad. 

It's a funny thing, but though I was now in real 
danger for the first time, I didn't feel half as frightened 
as I did when we were caught by Cuthbert or when 
the "meteor" holed the classroom. Somehow, this 
seemed different. We had several days' breathing space 
before the crisis would be upon us. And we all had 
such confidence in Commander Doyle that we were 
sure he could get us out of this mess. 

Though we couldn't really appreciate it at the time, 
there was certainly something ironic about the fact 
that we'd have been quite safe if we'd stuck to the 
Morning Star and not ultra-cautiously decided to go 
home on another ship. 

We had to wait for nearly fifteen minutes before the 
computing staff on the Inner Station worked out our 
new orbit and radioed it back to us. Commander Doyle 
plotted our path, and we all craned over his shoulder 
to see what course the ship was going to follow. 

"We're heading for the moon," he said, tracing out 
the dotted line with his finger. "We'll pass its orbit in 
about forty hours, near enough for its gravitational 
field to have quite an effect. If we want to use some 
rocket braking, we can let it capture us." 

"Wouldn't that be a good idea? At least it would 
stop us heading out into space." 



156 



Islands in the Sky 



The commander rubbed his chin thoughtfully. 

"I don't know," he said. "It depends on whether 
there are any ships on the moon that can come up 
to us." 

"Can't we land on the moon ourselves, near one of 
the settlements?" asked Norman. 

"No. We've not enough fuel for the descent. The 
motors aren't powerful enough, anyway— you ought to 
know that." 

Norman subsided, and the cabin was filled with a 
long, thoughtful silence that began to get on my nerves. 
I wished I could help with some bright ideas, but it 
wasn't likely they'd be any better than Norman's. 

"The trouble is," said the commander at last, "that 
there are so many factors involved. There are several 
possible solutions to our problems. What we want to 
find is the most economical one. It's going to cost a 
fortune if we have to call a ship up from the moon, 
just to match our speed and transfer a few tons of fuel. 
That's the obvious, brute-force answer." 

It was a relief to know that there was an answer. 
That was really all that I wanted to hear. Someone else 
would have to worry about the bill. 

Suddenly the pilot's face lit up. He had been sunk 
in gloom until now and hadn't contributed a word to 
the conversation. 

"I've got it!" he said. "We should have thought of 
it before! What's wrong with using the launcher down 
in Hipparchus? That should be able to shoot us up 



The Shol from the Moon 



157 



some fuel without any trouble, as far as one can tell 
from this chart." 

The conversation then grew very animated and tech- 
nical, and I was rapidly left behind. Ten minutes later 
the general gloom in the cabin began to disperse, so 
I guessed that some satisfactory conclusion had been 
reached. When the discussion had died away, and all 
the radio calls had been made, I got Tim into a corner 
and threatened to keep bothering him until he ex- 
plained exactly what was going on. 

"Surely, Roy," he said, "you know about the Hip- 
parchus launcher?" 

"Isn't it that magnetic thing that shoots fuel tanks 
up to rockets orbiting the moon?" 

"Of course. It's an electro-magnetic track about five 
miles long, running east and west across the crater 
Hipparchus. They chose that spot because it's near the 
center of the moon's disk and the fuel refineries aren't 
far away. Ships waiting to be refueled get into an orbit' 
round the moon, and at the right time they shoot up 
the containers into the same orbit. The ship's got to do 
a bit of maneuvering by rocket power to 'home' on the 
tank, but it's much cheaper than doing the whole job 
by rockets." 

"What happens to the empty tanks?" 

"That depends on the launching speed. Sometimes 
they crash back on the moon; after all, there's plenty 
of room for them to come down without doing any 
harm! But usually they're given lunar escape velocity, 



158 



Islands in the Sky 



so they just get lost in space. There's even more out 
there!" 

"1 see. We're going near enough to the moon for a 
fuel tank to be shot out to us." 

"Yes; they're doing the calculations now. Our orbit 
will pass behind the moon, about five thousand miles 
above the surface. They'll match our speed as accu- 
rately as they can with the launcher, and we'll have to 
do the rest under our own power. It'll mean using some 
of our fuel, of course, but the investment will be worth 
it!" 

"And when will all this happen?" 

"In about forty hours. We're waiting for the exact 
figures now." 

I was probably the only one who felt really pleased 
with the prospect, now that I knew we were reasonably 
safe. To the others, this was a tedious waste of time, 
but it was going to give me an opportunity of seeing 
the moon at close quarters. This was certainly far more 
than I could have dared hope when I left earth. The 
Inner Station already seemed a long way behind me. 

Hour by hour earth dwindled and the moon grew 
larger in the sky ahead. There was very little to do, 
apart from routine checks of the instruments and regu- 
lar radio calls to the various space stations and the 
lunar base. Most of the time was spent sleeping and 
playing cards, but once I was given the chance to speak 
to Mom and Pop, way back on earth. They sounded a 
bit worried, and for the first time I realized that we 



The Shoi from the Moon 



159 



were probably making headlines. However, I think I 
made it clear that I was enjoying myself and there was 
no real need for any alarm. 

All the necessary arrangements had been agreed 
upon, and there was nothing to do but wait until we 
swept past the moon and made our appointment with 
the fuel container. Though I had often watched the 
moon through telescopes, both from earth and from 
the Inner Station, it was a very different matter to see 
the great plains and mountains with my own unaided 
eyes. We were now so close that all the larger craters 
were easily visible along the band dividing night from 
day. The line of sunrise had just passed the center of 
the disk, and it was early dawn down there in Hip- 
parchus, where they were preparing for our rescue. I 
asked permission to borrow the ship's telescope and 
peered down into the great crater. 

It seemed that I was hanging in space only fifty miles 
above the moon. Hipparchus completely filled the field 
of vision; it was impossible to take it all in at one 
glance. The sunlight was slanting over the ruined walls 
of the crater, casting mile-long pools of inky shadow. 
Here and there upthrust peaks caught the first light of 
the dawn and blazed like beacons in the darkness all 
around them. 

There were other lights in the crater shadows, lights 
arranged in tiny, geometric patterns. I was looking 
down on one of the lunar settlements. Now hidden 
from me in the darkness were the great chemical 



160 



Islands in the Slcy 



plants, the pressurized domes, the spaceports and the 
power stations that drove the launching track. In a 
few hours they would be clearly visible as the sun 
rose above the mountains, but by then we should have 
passed behind the moon and the earthward side would 
be hidden from us. 

And then I saw it, a thin bar of light stretching in 
a dead straight line across the darkened plain. I was 
looking at the floodlights of the launching track, ranged 
like the lamps along an arterial road. By their illumi- 
nation, space-suited engineers would be checking the 
great electromagnets and seeing that the cradle ran 
freely in its guides. The fuel tank would be waiting 
at the head of the track, already loaded and ready to 
be placed on the cradle when the time arrived. If it 
had been daylight down there, perhaps I could have 
seen the actual launch. There would have been a tiny 
speck racing along the track, moving more and more 
swiftly as the generators poured their power into the 
magnets. It would leave the end of the launcher at a 
speed of over five thousand miles an hour, too fast for 
the moon ever to pull it back. As it traveled almost hori- 
zontally, the surface of the moon would curve away 
beneath it and it would sweep out into space to meet 
us, if all went well, three hours later. 

I think the most impressive moment of all my adven- 
tures came when the ship passed behind the moon, 
and I saw with my own eyes the land that had remained 
hidden from human sight until the coming of the 



The Shot from the Moon 



161 



rocket. It was true that I had seen many films and 
photographs of the moon's other side, and it was also 
true that it was very much the same as the visible face. 
Yet somehow the thrill remained. I thought of all the 
astronomers who had spent their lives charting the 
moon, but had never seen the land over which I was 
now passing. What would they have given for the op- 
portunity that had now come to me, and come quite 
by chance, without any real effort on my part! 

I had almost forgotten earth when Tim Benton drew 
my attention to it again. It was sinking swiftly toward 
the lunar horizon: the moon was rising up to eclipse it 
as we swept along in our great arc. A blinding blue- 
green crescent, the South Polar cap almost too brilliant 
to look upon, the reflection of the sun forming a pool 
of fire in the Pacific Ocean— that was my home, now 
a quarter of a million miles away. I watched it drop 
behind the cruel lunar peaks until only the faint, misty 
rim was visible; then even this disappeared. The sun 
was still with us, but earth had gone. Until this mo- 
ment it had always been with us in the sky, part of 
the background of things. Now I had only sun, moon 
and stars. 

The fuel container was already on its way up to meet 
us. It had been launched an hour before, and we had 
been told by radio that it was proceeding on the cor- 
rect orbit. The moon's gravitational field would curve 
its path and we would pass within a few hundred miles 
of it. Our job then was to match speeds by careful use 



162 



Islands in the Sky 



of our remaining fuel and, when we had coupled our 
ship up to the tank, pump across its contents. Then we 
could turn for home and the empty container would 
coast on out into space to join the rest of the debris 
circulating in the solar system. 

"But just suppose," I said anxiously to Norman 
Powell, "that they score a direct hit on us! After all, the 
whole thing's rather like shooting a gun at a target. 
And we're the target." 

Norman laughed. 

"It'll be moving very slowly when it comes up to us, 
and we'll spot it in our radar when it's a long way off. 
So there's no danger of a collision. By the time it is 
really close, we'll have matched speeds and if we bump 
it'll be about as violent as two snowflakes meeting 
head on." 

That was reassuring, though I still didn't really like 
the idea of this projectile from the moon tearing up at 
us through space. . . . 

We picked up the signals from the fuel container 
when it was still a thousand miles away, not with our 
radar, but thanks to the tiny radio beacon that all these 
missiles carried to aid their detection. After this I kept 
out of the way while Commander Doyle and the pilot 
made our rendezvous in space. It was a delicate opera- 
tion, this jockeying of a ship until it matched the course 
of the still-invisible projectile. Our fuel reserves were 
too slim to permit any more mistakes, and everyone 



The Shot from the Moon 



163 



breathed a great sigh of relief when the stubby, shin- 
ing cylinder was hanging beside us. 

The transfer took only about ten minutes, and when 
our pumps had finished their work the earth had 
emerged from behind the moon's shield. It seemed a 
good omen. We were once more masters of the situa- 
tion and in sight of home again. 

I was watching the radar screen, because no one else 
wanted to use it, when we turned on the motors again. 
The empty fuel container, which had now been un- 
coupled, seemed to fall slowly astern. Actually, of 
course, it was we who were falling back, checking our 
speed to return earthward. The fuel capsule would go 
shooting on out into space, thrown away, now that its 
task was completed. 

The extreme range of our radar was about five hun- 
dred miles, and I watched the bright spot representing 
the fuel container drift slowly toward the edge of the 
screen. It was the only object near enough to produce 
an echo. The volume of space which our beams were 
sweeping probably contained quite a number of mete- 
ors, but they were far too small to produce a visible 
signal. Yet there was something fascinating about 
watching even this almost empty screen— empty, that 
is, apart from an occasional sparkle of light caused by 
electrical interference. It made me visualize the thou- 
sand-mile-diameter globe at whose center we were 
traveling. Nothing of any size could enter that globe 



164 



Islands in the Sky 



without our invisible radio fingers detecting it and giv- 
ing the alarm. 

We were now safely back on course, no longer rac- 
ing out into space. Commander Doyle had decided not 
to return directly to the Inner Station, because our 
oxygen reserve was getting low. Instead, we would 
home on one of the three Relay Stations, twenty-two 
thousand miles above the earth. The ship could be 
reprovisioned there before we continued the last lap 
of our journey. 

I was just about to switch off the radar screen when 
I saw a faint spark of light at extreme range. It vanished 
a second later as our beam moved into another sector 
of space, and I waited until it had swept through the 
complete cycle, wondering if I'd been mistaken. Were 
there any other spaceships around here? It was quite 
possible, of course. 

There was no doubt about it. The spark appeared 
again, in the same position. I knew how to work the 
scanner controls and stopped the beam sweeping so 
that it locked on to the distant echo. It was just under 
five hundred miles away, moving very slowly with re- 
spect to us. I looked at it thoughtfully for a few sec- 
onds and then called Tim. It was probably not impor- 
tant enough to bother the commander. However, there 
was just the chance that it was a really large meteor, 
and they were always worth investigating. One that 
gave an echo this size would be much too big to bring 



The Shol from ihe Moon 



165 



home, but we might be able to chip bits off it for 
souvenirs— if we matched speed with it, of course. 

Tim started the scanner going as soon as I handed 
over the controls. He thought I'd picked up our dis- 
carded fuel container again, which annoyed me since 
it showed little faith in my common sense. But he soon 
saw that it was in a different part of the sky and his 
skepticism vanished. 

"It must be a spaceship," he said, "though it doesn't 
seem a large enough echo for that. We'll soon find out. 
If it's a ship, it'll be carrying a radio beacon." 

He tuned our receiver to the beacon frequency, but 
without result. There were a few ships at great dis- 
tances in other parts of the sky, but nothing as close 
as this. 

Norman had now joined us and was looking over 
Tim's shoulder. 

"If it's a meteor," he said, "let's hope it's a nice lump 
of platinum or something equally valuable. Then we 
can retire for life." 

"Hey!" I exclaimed. "1 found it!" 

"I don't think that counts. You're not on the crew 
and shouldn't be here anyway." 

"Don't worry," said Tim, "no one's ever found any- 
thing except iron in meteors, at least not in any quan- 
tity. The most you can expect to run across out here 
is a chunk of nickel steel, probably so tough that you 
won't even be able to saw off a piece as a souvenir." 



1<56 



islands in the Sky 



By now we had worked out the course of the object 
and discovered that it would pass within twenty miles 
of us. If we wished to make contact, we'd have to 
change our velocity by about two hundred miles an 
hour— not much, but it would waste some of our hard- 
won fuel and the commander certainly wouldn't allow 
it, if it was merely a question of satisfying our curiosity. 

"How big would it have to be to produce an echo 
this bright?" I asked. 

"You can't tell," said Tim. "It depends on what it's 
made of and which way it's pointing. A spaceship could 
produce a signal as small as that, if we were only seeing 
it end on." 

"I think I've found it," said Norman suddenly. "And 
it isn't a meteor. You have a look." 

He had been searching with the ship's telescope, and 
I took his place at the eyepiece, getting there just ahead 
of Tim. Against a background of faint stars a roughly 
cylindrical object, brilliantly lit by the sunlight, was 
very slowly revolving in space. Even at first glance I 
could see it was artificial. When I had watched it turn 
through a complete revolution, I could see that it was 
streamlined and had a pointed nose. It looked much 
more like an old-time artillery shell than a modern 
rocket. The fact that it was streamlined meant that it 
couldn't be an empty fuel container from the launcher 
in Hipparchus; the tanks it shot up were plain, stubby 
cylinders, since streamlining was no use on the airless 
moon. 



The Shot from the Moon 



167 



Commander Doyle stared through the telescope for 
a long time after we called him over. Finally, to my 
joy, he remarked: "Whatever it is, we'd better have a 
look at it and make a report. We can spare the fuel, 
and it will only take a few minutes." 

Our ship spun round in space as we began to make 
the course correction. The rockets fired for a few sec- 
onds, our new path was rechecked, and the rockets 
operated again. After several shorter bursts, we had 
come to within a mile of the mysterious object and be- 
gan to edge toward it under the gentle impulse of the 
steering jets alone. Through all these maneuvers it was 
impossible to use the telescope, so when I next saw my 
discovery it was only a hundred yards beyond our port, 
very gently approaching us. 

It was artificial, all right, and a rocket of some kind. 
What it was doing out here near the moon we could 
only guess, and several theories were put forward. 
Since it was only about ten feet long, it might be one 
of the automatic reconnaissance missiles sent out in the 
early days of spaceflight. Commander Doyle didn't 
think this likely, because as far as he knew, they'd all 
been accounted for. Besides, it seemed to have none of 
the radio and TV equipment such missiles would carry. 

It was painted a very bright red, an odd color, I 
thought, for anything in space. There was some letter- 
ing on the side— apparently in English, though I 
couldn't make out the words at this distance. As the 
projectile slowly revolved, a black pattern on a white 



168 



Islands in the Sky 



background came into view, but went out of sight be- 
fore I could interpret it. I waited until it came into view 
again. By this time the little rocket had drifted con- 
siderably closer and was now only fifty feet away. 

"I don't like the looks of the thing," Tim Benton said, 
half to himself. "That color, for instance; red's the sign 
of danger." 

"Don't be an old woman," scoffed Norman. "If it was 
a bomb or something like that, it certainly wouldn't 
advertise the fact." 

Then the pattern I'd glimpsed before swam back into 
view. Even on the first sight, there had been something 
uncomfortably familiar about it. Now there was no 
longer any doubt. 

Clearly painted on the side of the slowly approach- 
ing missile was the symbol of death— the skull and 
crossbones. 



Chapter 10 

Radio Satellite 



~| ommander Doyle must have seen that ominous 
warning as quickly as we did, for an instant later 
■ our rockets thundered briefly. The crimson missile 
veered slowly aside and started to recede once more 
into space. At its moment of closest approach, I was 
able to read the words painted below the skull and 
crossbones— and I understood. The notice read: 

warning! 
radioactive waste! 
atomic energy commission 

"I wish we had a Geiger counter on board," said the 
commander thoughtfully. "Still, by this time it can't 
be very dangerous and I don't expect we've had much 

li9 



170 



Islands in the Sky 



of a dose. But we'll all have to have a blood count when 
we get back to base." 

"How long do you think it's been up here, sir?" asked 
Norman. 

"Let's think— I believe they started getting rid of 
dangerous waste this way back in the 1970s. They 
didn't do it for long; the space corporations soon put 
a stop to it! Nowadays, of course, we know how to deal 
with all the by-products of the atomic piles, but back 
in the early days there were a lot of radio isotopes they 
couldn't handle. Rather a drastic way of getting rid of 
them, and a shortsighted solution too!" 

"I've heard about these waste containers," said Tim, 
"but I thought they'd all been collected and the stuff 
in them buried somewhere on the moon." 

"Not this one, apparently. But it soon will be when 
we report it. Good work, Malcolm! You've done your 
bit to make space safer!" 

I was pleased at the compliment, though still a little 
worried lest we'd received a dangerous dose of radia- 
tion from the decaying isotopes in their celestial coffin. 
Luckily my fears turned out to be groundless, for we 
had left the neighborhood too quickly to come to any 
harm. 

We also discovered, a good while later, the history 
of this stray missile. The Atomic Energy Commission 
is still a bit ashamed of this episode in its history, and 
it was some time before it gave the whole story. Finally 
it admitted the dispatch of a waste container in 1981 



Radio Satellite 



171 



that had been intended to crash on the moon but had 
never done so. The astronomers had a lot of fun work- 
ing out how the thing had got into the orbit where we 
found it. It was a complicated story involving the gravi- 
ties of the earth, sun and moon. 

Our detour had not lost us a great deal of time, and 
we were only a few minutes behind schedule when we 
came sweeping into the orbit of Relay Station Two, the 
one that sits above Latitude 30° East, over the middle 
of Africa. I was now used to seeing peculiar objects 
in space, so the first sight of the station didn't surprise 
me in the least. It consisted of a flat, rectangular lattice- 
work, with one side facing the earth. Covering this face 
were hundreds of small, concave reflectors, focusing 
systems that beamed the radio signals to the planet 
beneath, or collected them on the way up. 

We approached cautiously, making contact with the 
back of the station. A pilot who let his ship pass in 
front of it was very unpopular, as he might cause a 
temporary failure on thousands of circuits, while 
blocking the radio beams. For the whole of the planet's 
long-distance services and most of the radio and TV 
networks were routed through the Relay Stations. As 
I looked more closely, I saw that there were two other 
sets of radio reflector systems, aimed not at earth but 
in the two directions sixty degrees away from it. These 
were handling the beams to the other two stations, so 
that altogether the three formed a vast triangle, slowly 
rotating with the turning earth. 



172 



Islands in ihe Sky 



We spent only twelve hours at the Relay Station, 
while our ship was overhauled and reprovisioned. I 
never saw the pilot again, though I heard later that he 
had been partly exonerated from blame. When we con- 
tinued our interrupted journey, it was with a fresh 
captain, who showed no willingness to talk about his 
colleague's fate. Space pilots form a very select and 
exclusive club and never let each other down or dis- 
cuss each other's mistakes, at least, not to people out- 
side their trade union. I suppose you can hardly blame 
them, since theirs is one of the most responsible jobs 
that exists. 

The living arrangements aboard the Relay Station 
were much the same as on the Inner Station, so I won't 
spend any time describing them. In any case, we 
weren't there long enough to see much of the place, 
and everyone was too busy to waste time showing us 
around. The TV people did ask us to make one appear- 
ance to describe our adventures since leaving the hos- 
pital. The interview took place in a makeshift studio, 
so tiny that it wouldn't hold us all, and we had to slip 
in quietly one by one when a signal was given. It 
seemed funny to find no better arrangements here at 
the very heart of the world's TV network. Still, it was 
reasonable enough because a "live" broadcast from 
the Relay Station was a very rare event indeed. 

We also had a brief glimpse of the main switch room, 
though I'm afraid it didn't mean a great deal to us. 
There were acres of dials and colored lights, with men 



Radio Satellite 



173 



sitting here and there looking at screens and turning 
knobs. Soft voices, in every language, came through 
the loud-speakers. As we went from one operator to 
another we saw football games, string quartets, air 
races, ice hockey, art displays, puppet shows, grand 
opera— a cross-section of the world's entertainment, all 
depending on these three tiny metal rafts, twenty-two 
thousand miles up in the sky. As I looked at some of 
the programs that were going out, I wondered if it was 
really worth it. 

Not all the Relay Station's business was concerned 
with earth, by any means. The interplanetary circuits 
passed through here: if Mars wished to call Venus, it 
was sometimes convenient to route messages through 
the earth relays. We listened to some of these messages, 
nearly all high-speed telegraphy, so they didn't mean 
anything to us. Because it takes several minutes for 
radio waves to bridge the gulf between even the near- 
est planets, you can't have conversation with someone 
on another world. (Except the moon— and even there 
you have to put up with an annoying time-lag of nearly 
three seconds before you can get any answer.) The 
only speech that was coming over the Martian circuit 
was a talk beamed to earth for rebroadcasting by a 
radio commentator. He was discussing local politics 
and the last season's crop. It all sounded rather dull. 

Though I was there only a short time, one thing 
about the Relay Station did impress me very strongly. 
Everywhere else I'd been, one could look "down" at 



174 



Islands in the Sky 



the earth and watch it turning on its axis, bringing new 
continents into view with the passing hours. But here 
there was no such change. The earth kept the same 
face turned forever toward the station. It was true that 
night and day passed across the planet beneath, but 
with every dawn and sunset, the station was still in 
exactly the same place. It was poised eternally above a 
spot in Uganda, two hundred miles from Lake Vic- 
toria. Because of this, it was hard to believe that the 
station was moving at all, though actually it was travel- 
ing round the earth at over six thousand miles an 
hour. But because it took exactly one day to make the 
circuit, it would remain hanging over Africa forever- 
just as the other two stations hung above the opposite 
coasts of the Pacific. 

This was only one of the ways in which the whole 
atmosphere aboard the Relay seemed quite different 
from that down on the Inner Station. The men here 
were doing a job that kept them in touch with every- 
thing happening on earth, often before earth knew it 
itself. Yet they were also on the frontiers of real space, 
for there was nothing else between them and the orbit 
of the moon. It was a strange situation, and I wished 
I could have stayed longer. 

Unless there were any more accidents, my holiday 
in space was coming to an end. I'd already missed 
the ship that was supposed to take me home, but this 
didn't help me as much as I'd hoped. The plan now, I 
gathered, was to send me over to the Residential Sta- 



Radio Satellite 



175 



tion and put me aboard the regular ferry, so that I'd 
be going down to earth with the passengers homeward 
bound from Mars or Venus. 

Our trip back to the Inner Station was uneventful 
and rather tedious. We couldn't persuade Commander 
Doyle to tell any more stories, and I think he was a 
bit ashamed of himself for being so talkative on the 
outward journey. This time, too, he was taking no 
chances with the pilot. 

It seemed like coming home when the familiar chaos 
of the Inner Station swam into view. Nothing much 
had changed. Some ships had gone and others taken 
their place, that was all. The other apprentices were 
waiting for us in the air lock, an informal reception 
committee. They gave the commander a cheer as he 
came aboard, though afterward there was a lot of 
good-natured leg-pulling about our various adven- 
tures. In particular, the fact that the Morning Star was 
still out at the hospital caused numerous complaints, 
and we never succeeded in getting Commander Doyle 
to take all the blame for this. 

I spent most of my last day aboard the station col- 
lecting autographs and souvenirs. The best memento 
of my stay was something quite unexpected-a beauti- 
ful little model of the station, made out of plastic and 
presented to me by the other boys. It pleased me so 
much that I was quite tongue-tied and didn't know 
how to thank them, but I guess they realized the way 
I felt. 



176 



Islands in the Sky 



At last everything was packed, and I could only hope 
my luggage was inside the weight limit. There was 
only one good-by left to make. 

Commander Doyle was sitting at his desk, just as 
I'd seen him at our first meeting. But he wasn't so 
terrifying now, for I'd grown to know and admire him. 
I hoped that I'd not been too much of a nuisance and 
tried to say so. The commander grinned. 

"It might have been worse," he said. "On the whole 
you kept out of the way pretty well, though you man- 
aged to get into some— ah— unexpected places. I'm 
wondering whether to send World Airways a bill for 
the extra fuel you used on our little voyage. It must 
come to a sizable amount." 

I thought it best not to say anything, and presently 
he continued, after ruffling through the papers on his 
desk. 

"I suppose you realize, Roy, that a goodly number 
of youngsters apply for jobs here and not many get 
them. The qualifications are too steep. Well, I've kept 
my eye on you in the last few weeks and have noticed 
how you've been shaping up. If when you're old 
enough— that will be in a couple of years, won't it?— 
you want to put your name down, I'll be glad to make 
a recommendation." 

"Why, thank you, sir!" 

"Of course, there will be a tremendous amount of 
study to be done. You've seen most of the fun and 
games, not the hard work. And you've not had to sit 



Radio Satellite 



177 



up here for months waiting for your leave to come 
along and wondering why you ever left earth." 

There was nothing I could say to this; it was a prob- 
lem that must hit the commander harder than anyone 
else in the station. 

He propelled himself out of his seat with his left 
hand, stretching out the right one toward me. As we 
shook hands, I again recalled our first meeting. How 
long ago that now seemed! And I suddenly realized 
that, though I'd seen him every day, I'd almost for- 
gotten that Commander Doyle was legless. He was so 
perfectly adapted to his surroundings that the rest of 
us seemed freaks. It was an object lesson in what will- 
power and determination could do. 

I had a surprise when I reached the air lock. Though 
I hadn't really given it any thought, I'd assumed that 
one of the normal ferry rockets was going to take me 
over to the Residential Station for my rendezvous with 
the ship for earth. Instead, there was the ramshackle 
Skylark of Space, her mooring lines drifting slackly. 
I wondered what our exclusive neighbors would think 
when this peculiar object arrived at their doorsteps, 
and guessed that it had probably been arranged es- 
pecially to annoy them. 

Tim Benton and Ronnie Jordan made up the crew 
and helped me get my luggage through the air lock. 
They looked doubtfully at the number of parcels I was 
carrying, and asked me if I knew what interplanetary 
freight charges were. Luckily, the homeward run is 



178 



Islands in the Sky 



by far the cheapest, and though I had some awkward 
moments, I got everything through. 

The great revolving drum of the Residential Station 
slowly expanded ahead of us: the untidy collection of 
domes and pressure-corridors that had been my home 
for so long dwindled astern. Very cautiously, Tim 
brought the Skylark up to the axis of the station. I 
couldn't see exactly what happened then, but big, 
jointed arms came out to meet us and drew us slowly 
in until the air locks clamped together. 

"Well, so long," said Ron. "I guess we'll be seeing 
you again." 

"I hope so," I said, wondering if I should mention 
Commander Doyle's offer. "Come and see me when 
you're down on earth." 

"Thanks, I'll do my best. Hope you have a good 
ride down." 

I shook hands with them both, feeling pretty misera- 
ble as I did so. Then the doors folded back, and I went 
through into the flying hotel that had been my neigh- 
bor for so many days, but which I'd never visited be- 
fore. 

The air lock ended in a wide circular corridor, and 
waiting for me was a uniformed steward. That at once 
set the tone of the place: after having to do things for 
myself, I felt rather foolish as I handed over my lug- 
gage. And I wasn't used to being called "sir." 

I watched with interest as the steward carefully 
placed my property against the wall of the corridor and 



Radio Satellite 



179 



told me to take my place beside it. Then there was a 
faint vibration, and I remembered the ride in the cen- 
trifuge I'd had back at the hospital. The same thing 
was happening here. The corridor was starting to 
rotate, matching the spin of the station, and centrifugal 
force was giving me weight again. Not until the two 
rates of spin were equal would I be able to go through 
into the rest of the station. 

Presently a buzzer sounded, and I knew that our 
speeds had been matched. The force gluing me to the 
curved wall was very small, but it would increase as I 
got farther from the center of the station, until at the 
very rim it was equal to one earth gravity. I was in 
no hurry to experience that again, after my days of 
complete weightlessness. 

The corridor ended in a doorway which led, much 
to my surprise, into an elevator cage. There was a short 
ride in which curious things seemed to happen to the 
vertical direction and then the door opened to reveal 
a large hall. I could hardly believe that I was not on 
earth. This might be the foyer of any luxury hotel. 
There was the reception desk with the residents mak- 
ing their inquiries and complaints, the uniformed staff 
was hurrying to and fro and from time to time some- 
one was being paged over the speaker system. Only 
the long, graceful bounds with which people walked 
revealed that this wasn't earth. And above the recep- 
tion desk was a large notice: 

GRAVITY ON THIS FLOOR = 1/3rD EARTH 



180 



Islands in the Sky 



That, I realized, would make it just about right for 
the returning Martian colonists. Probably all the peo- 
ple around me had come from the Red Planet, or were 
preparing to go there. 

When I had been checked in I was given a tiny 
room, just large enough to hold a bed, a chair and a 
washbasin. It was so strange to see freely flowing water 
again that the first thing I did was to turn on the tap 
and watch a pool of liquid form at the bottom of the 
basin. Then I suddenly realized that there must be 
baths here as well, so with a whoop of joy I set off in 
search of one. I had grown very tired of showers, and 
all the bother that went with them. 

So that was how I spent most of my first evening at 
the Residential Station. All around me were travelers 
who had come back from far worlds with stories of 
strange adventures. But they could wait until tomor- 
row. For the present I was going to enjoy one of the 
experiences that gravity did make possible, lying in a 
mass of water which didn't try to turn itself into a giant, 
drifting raindrop. 



Chapter 11 Starlight Hotel 



t was late in the "evening" when I arrived aboard 
the Residential Station. Time here had been geared 
to the cycle of nights and days that existed down on 
earth. Every twenty-four hours the lights dimmed, 
a hushed silence descended, and the residents went to 
bed. Outside the walls of the station the sun might 
be shining, or it might be in eclipse behind the earth 
—it made no difference here in this world of wide, 
curving corridors, thick carpets, soft lights and quietly 
whispering voices. We had our own time and no one 
took any notice of the sun. 

I didn't sleep well my first night under gravity, even 
though I had only a third of the weight to which I'd 
been accustomed all my life. Breathing was difficult, 

I8l 



182 



Islands in the Sky 



and I had unpleasant dreams. Again and again I 
seemed to be climbing a steep hill with a great load 
on my back. My legs were aching, my lungs panting, 
and the hill stretched endlessly ahead. However long 
I toiled, I never reached the top. 

At last, however, I managed to doze off, and remem- 
bered nothing until a steward woke me with breakfast, 
which I ate from a little tray fixed over my bed. 
Though I was anxious to see the station, I took my 
time over this meal. This was a novel experience which 
I wanted to savor to the fullest. Breakfast in bed was 
rare enough, but to have it aboard a space station as 
well was really something! 

When I had dressed, I started to explore my new 
surroundings. The first thing I had to get used to was 
the fact that the floors were all curved. ( Of course, I 
also had to get used to the idea that there were floors 
anyway, after doing without up and down for so long. ) 
The reason for this was simple enough. I was now 
living on the inside of a giant cylinder that slowly 
turned on its axis. Centrifugal force, the same force 
that held the station in the sky, was acting once again, 
gluing me to the side of the revolving drum. If you 
walked straight ahead, you could go right round the 
circumference of the station and come back to where 
you started. At any point, "up" would be toward the 
central axis of the cylinder, which meant that someone 
standing a few yards away, farther round the curve 
of the station, would appear to be tilted toward you. 



Starlight Hotel 



183 



Yet to them, everything would be perfectly normal and 
you would be the one who was tilted! It was confus- 
ing at first, but, like everything else, you got used to 
it after a while. The designers of the station had gone 
in for some clever tricks of decoration to hide what 
was happening, and in the smaller rooms the curve of 
the floor was too slight to be noticed. 

The station wasn't merely a single cylinder, but 
three, one inside the other. As you moved out from 
the center, so the sense of weight increased. The inner- 
most cylinder was the "One Third Earth Gravity" floor, 
and because it was nearest to the air locks on the 
station's axis it was devoted mainly to handling the 
passengers and their luggage. There was a saying that 
if you sat opposite the reception desk long enough, 
you'd see everyone of importance on the four planets. 

Surrounding this central cylinder was the more spa- 
cious "Two Thirds Earth Gravity" floor. You passed 
from one floor to the other either by elevators or by 
curiously curved stairways. It was an odd experience, 
going down one of these stairs. At first I found it took 
quite a bit of will-power, for I was not yet accus- 
tomed even to a third of my earth weight. As I walked 
slowly down the steps, gripping the handrail very 
firmly, I seemed to grow steadily heavier. When I 
reached the floor, my movements were so slow and 
leaden that I imagined that everyone was looking at 
me. However, I soon grew used to the feeling. I had 
to, if I was ever going to return to earth! 



184 



Islands in Ihe Sky 



Most of the passengers were on this "Two Thirds 
Gravity" floor. Most of them were homeward bound 
from Mars, and though they had been experiencing 
normal earth weight for the last weeks of their voy- 
age—thanks to the spin of their liner— they obviously 
didn't like it yet. They walked very gingerly, and were 
always finding excuses to go "up" to the top floor, 
where gravity had the same value as on Mars. 

I had never met any Martian colonists before, and 
they fascinated me. Their clothes, their accents— every- 
thing about them had an air of strangeness, though 
often it was hard to say just where the peculiarity 
lay. They all seemed to know each other by their first 
names. Perhaps that wasn't surprising after their long 
voyage, but later I discovered it was just the same 
on Mars. The settlements there were still small enough 
for everyone to know everybody else. They would find 
things very different when they got to earth. 

I felt a little lonely among all these strangers, and 
it was some time before I made any acquaintances. 
There were some small shops on the "Two Thirds 
Gravity" deck, where one could buy toilet goods and 
souvenirs, and I was exploring these when three young 
colonists came strolling in. The oldest was a boy who 
looked about my age, and he was accompanied by 
two girls who were obviously his sisters. 

"Hello," he said, "you weren't on the ship." 

"No," I answered. "I've just come over from the 
other half of the station." 



Starlight Hotel 



185 



"What's your name?" 

So blunt a request might have seemed rude or at 
least ill-mannered down on earth, but by now I learned 
that the colonists were like that. They were direct 
and forthright and never wasted words. I decided to 
behave in the same way. 

"J m Roy Malcolm. Who are you?" 

"Oh," said one of the girls, "we read about you in 
the ship's newspaper. You've been flying round the 
moon, and all sorts of things." 

I was quite flattered to find that they'd heard of 
me, but merely shrugged my shoulders as if it wasn't 
anything of importance. In any case, I didn't want to 
risk showing off, as they'd traveled a lot farther than 
I had. 

"I'm John Moore," announced the boy, "and these 
are my sisters Ruby and May. This is the first time 
we've been to earth." 

"You mean you were bom on Mars?" 

"That's right. We're coming home to go to college." 

It sounded strange to hear that phrase "coming 
home" from someone who'd never set foot on earth. 
I nearly asked, "Can't you get a good education on 
Mars, then?" but luckily stopped myself in time. The 
colonists were very sensitive to criticism of their 
planet, even when it wasn't intended. They also hated 
the word "colonist," and you had to avoid using it 
when they were around. But you couldn't very well 



186 



Islands in the Sky 



call them "Martians," for that word had to be saved 
for the original inhabitants of the planet. 

"We're looking for some souvenirs to take home," 
said Ruby. "Don't you think that plastic star map is 
beautiful?" 

"I liked that carved meteor best," I said. "But it's 
an awful price." 

"How much have you got?" said John. 

I turned out my pockets and did a quick calcula- 
tion. To my astonishment, John immediately replied, 
"I can lend you the rest. You can let me have it back 
when we reach earth." 

This was my first contact with the quick-hearted 
generosity which everyone took for granted on Mars. 
I couldn't possibly accept the offer, yet didn't want 
to hurt John's feelings. Luckily I had a good excuse. 

"That's fine of you," I said, "but I've just remem- 
bered that I've used up my weight allowance. So that 
settles it. I can't take home anything else." 

I waited anxiously for a minute in case one of the 
Moores was willing to lend me cargo space as well, 
but fortunately they must all have used up their 
allowances too. 

After this, it was inevitable that they took me to 
meet their parents. We found them in the main 
lounge, puzzling their way through the newspapers 
from earth. As soon as she saw me, Mrs. Moore ex- 
claimed, "What has happened to your clothes!" and 
for the first time I realized that life on the Inner Sta- 



Starlight Hotel 



187 



tion had made quite a mess of my suit. Before I knew 
what had happened, I'd been pushed into a brightly 
colored suit of John's. It was a good fit, but the design 
was startling, at least by earth standards, though it 
certainly wasn't noticeable here. 

We all had so much to talk about that the hours 
spent waiting for the ferry passed extremely quickly. 
Life on Mars was as novel to me as life on earth was 
to the Moores. John had a fine collection of photo- 
graphs which he'd taken, showing what it was like 
in the great pressure-domed cities and out on the 
colored deserts. He'd done quite a bit of traveling 
and had some wonderful pictures of Martian scenery 
and life. They were so good that I suggested he sell 
them to the illustrated magazines. He answered, in a 
slightly hurt voice, "I already have." 

The photograph that fascinated me most was a view 
over one of the great vegetation areas— the Syrtis 
Major, John told me. It had been taken from a con- 
siderable height, looking down the slope of a wide 
valley. Millions of years ago the short-lived Martian 
seas had rolled above this land, and the bones of 
strange marine creatures were still embedded in its 
rocks. Now new life was returning to the planet. Down 
in the valley, great machines were turning up the 
brick-red soil to make way for the colonists from earth. 
In the distance I could see acres of the so-called "Air- 
weed," freshly planted in neat rows. As it grew, this 
strange plant would break down the minerals in the 



188 



Islands in the Sky 



ground and release free oxygen, so that one day men 
would be able to live on the planet without breathing 
masks. 

Mr. Moore was standing in the foreground, with a 
small Martian on either side of him. The little crea- 
tures were grasping his fingers with tiny, clawlike 
hands and staring at the camera with their huge, pale 
eyes. There was something rather touching about the 
scene. It seemed to dramatize the friendly contact of 
two races in a way that nothing else could do. 

"Why," I exclaimed suddenly, "your dad isn't wear- 
ing a breathing mask!" 

John laughed. 

"I was wondering when you'd notice that. It'll be 
a long time before there's enough free oxygen in the 
atmosphere for us to breathe it, but some of us can 
manage without a mask for a couple of minutes— 
as long as we're not doing anything very energetic, 
that is." 

"How do you get on with the Martians?" I asked. 
"Do you think they had a civilization once?" 

"I don't know about that," said John. "Every so 
often you hear rumors of ruined cities out in the des- 
erts, but they always turn out to be hoaxes or prac- 
tical jokes. There's no evidence at all that the Martians 
were ever any different from what they are today. 
They're not exactly friendly, except when they're 
young, but they never give any trouble. The adults 



Starlight Hotel 



189 



just ignore you unless you get in their way. They've 
got very little curiosity." 

"I've read somewhere," I said, "that they behave 
more like rather intelligent horses than any other 
animal we've got on earth." 

"I wouldn't know," said John. "I've never met a 
horse." 

That brought me up with a jerk. Then I realized 
that there couldn't be many animals that John had 
met. Earth would have a great many surprises for him. 

"Exactly what are you going to do when you get 
to earth?" I asked John. "Apart from going to college, 
that is." 

"Oh, we'll travel round first and have a look at the 
sights. We've seen a lot of films, you know, so we've 
a good idea what it's like." 

I did my best to avoid a smile. Though I'd lived 
in several countries, I hadn't really seen much of earth 
in my whole life, and I wondered if the Moores really 
realized just how big the planet was. Their scales of 
values must be quite different from mine. Mars is a 
small planet, and there are only limited regions where 
life is possible. If you put all the vegetation areas 
together, they wouldn't add up to much more than a 
medium-sized country down on earth. And, of course, 
the areas covered by the pressure-domes of the few 
cities are very much smaller still. 

I decided to find out what my new friends really 
did know about earth. 



190 



Islands in the Sky 



Surely," I said, "there are some places you par- 
ticularly want to visit." 

"Oh, yes!" replied Ruby. "I want to see some for- 
ests. Those great trees you have— we've nothing like 
them on Mars. It must be wonderful walking beneath 
their branches and seeing the birds flying around." 

"We've no birds either, you see," put in May rather 
wistfully. "The air's too thin for them." 

"I want to see the ocean," said John. "I'd like to 
go sailing and fishing. It's true, isn't it, that you can 
get so far out to sea that you can't tell where the 
land is?" 

"It certainly is," I replied. 

Ruby gave a little shudder. 

"All that water! It would scare me. I should be 
afraid of being lost-and I've read that being on a 
boat makes you horribly sick." 

"Oh," I replied airily, "you get used to it. Of course, 
there aren't many boats now, except for pleasure. A 
few hundred years ago most of the world's trade went 
by sea, until air transport took over. You can hire boats 
at the coast resorts, though, and people who'll run 
them for you." 

"But is it safe?" insisted Ruby. "I've read that your 
seas are full of horrible monsters that might come up 
and swallow you." 

This time I couldn't help smiling. 

"I shouldn't worry," I replied. "It hardly ever hap- 
pens these days." 



Starlight Hotel 



191 



"What about the land animals?" asked May. "Some 
of those are quite big, aren't they? I've read about 
tigers and lions, and I know they're dangerous. I'm 
scared of meeting one of those." 

Then I thought, I hope I know a bit more about 
Mars than you do about earth! I was just going to 
explain that man-eating tigers weren't generally found 
in our cities when I caught Ruby grinning at John, 
and realized that they'd been pulling my leg all the 
time. 

After that we all went to lunch together, in a great 
dining room where I felt rather ill at ease. I made 
matters worse by forgetting we were under gravity 
again and spilling a glass of water on the floor. How- 
ever, everyone laughed so good-humoredly I didn't 
really mind. The only person who was annoyed was 
the steward who had to mop it up. 

For the rest of my short stay in the Residential Sta- 
tion I spent most of my time with the Moores. And 
it was here, surprisingly enough, that I at last saw 
something I'd missed on my other trips. Though I'd 
visited several space stations, I'd never actually 
watched one being built. We were now able to get 
a grandstand view of this operation— and without 
bothering to wear space suits. The Residential Sta- 
tion was being extended, and from the windows at 
the end of the "Two Thirds Gravity" floor we were 
able to see the whole fascinating process. Here was 
something that I could explain to my new friends. 



192 



Islands in the Sky 



I didn't tell them that the spectacle would have been 
equally strange to me only two weeks ago. 

The fact that we were making one complete revo- 
lution every ten seconds was highly confusing at first, 
and the girls turned rather green when they saw the 
stars orbiting outside the windows. However, the com- 
plete absence of vibration made it easy to pretend- 
just as one does on earth— that we were stationary 
and it was really the stars that were revolving. 

The station extension was still a mass of open 
girders, only partly covered by metal sheets. It had 
not yet been set spinning, for that would have made 
its construction impossibly difficult. At the moment, 
it floated about half a mile away from us, with a couple 
of freight rockets alongside. When it was completed, 
it would be brought gently up to the station and set 
rotating on its axis by small rocket motors. As soon 
as the spins had been matched exactly, the two units 
would be bolted together and the Residential Station 
would have doubled its length. The whole opera- 
tion would be rather like engaging a gigantic clutch. 

As we watched, a construction gang was easing a 
large girder from the hold of a ferry rocket. The girder 
was about forty feet long, and though it weighed noth- 
ing out here, its mass or inertia was unchanged. It 
took a considerable effort to start it moving, and an 
equal effort to stop it again. The men of the con- 
struction crew were working in what were really tiny 
spaceships, little cylinders about ten feet long, fitted 



Starlight Hotel 



193 



with low-powered rockets and steering jets. They 
maneuvered these with fascinating skill, darting for- 
ward or sideways and coming to rest with inches to 
spare. Ingenious handling mechanisms and jointed 
metal arms enabled them to carry out all ordinary 
assembling tasks almost as easily as if they were work- 
ing with their own hands. 

The team was under the radio control of a fore- 
man—or, to give him his more dignified name, a con- 
troller—who stayed in a little pressure-hut fixed to the 
girders of the partly constructed station. Moving to 
and fro or up and down under his directions, and 
keeping in perfect unison, they reminded me of a flock 
of goldfish in a pool. Indeed, with the sunlight glint- 
ing on their armor, they did look very much like 
underwater creatures. 

The girder was now floating free of the ship that 
had brought it here from the moon, and two of the 
men attached their grapples and towed it slowly 
toward the station. Much too late, it seemed to me, 
they began to use their braking units. But there was 
still a good six inches between the girder and the 
skeleton framework when they had finished. Then one 
of the men went back to help his colleagues with the 
unloading, while the other eased the girder across the 
remaining gap until it made contact with the rest of 
the structure. It was not lying in exactly the correct 
line, so he had to slew it through a slight angle as 
well. Then he slipped in the bolts and began to tighten 



194 



Islands in the Sky 



them up. It all looked so effortless, but I realized that 
immense skill and practice must lie behind this de- 
ceptive simplicity. 

Before you could go down to earth, you were sup- 
posed to spend a twelve-hour quarantine period on 
the "Full Earth Gravity" floor— the outermost of the 
station's three decks. So once again I went down one 
of those curving stairways, my weight increasing with 
every step. When I had reached the bottom, my legs 
felt very weak and wobbly. I could hardly believe 
that this was the normal force of gravity under which 
I had passed my whole life. 

The Moores had come with me, and they felt the 
strain even more than I did. This was three times 
the gravity of their native Mars, and twice I had to 
stop John from falling as he tottered unsteadily about. 
The third time I failed, and we both went down to- 
gether. We looked so miserable that after a minute 
each started laughing at the other's expression and 
our spirits quickly revived. For a while we sat on the 
thick rubber flooring ( the designers of the station had 
known where it would be needed!) and got up our 
strength for another attempt. This time we didn't fall 
down. Much to John's annoyance, the remainder of 
his family managed much better than he did. 

We couldn't leave the Residential Station without 
seeing one of its prize exhibits. The "Full Earth Grav- 
ity" floor had a swimming pool, a small one, but its 
fame had spread throughout the solar system. 



Starlight Hotel 



195 



It was famous because it wasn't flat. As I've ex- 
plained, since the station's "gravity" was caused by 
its spin, the vertical at any spot pointed toward the 
central axis. Any free water, therefore, had a concave 
surface, taking the shape of a hollow cylinder. 

We couldn't resist entering the pool, not merely be- 
cause once we were floating, gravity would be less of 
a strain. Though I'd become used to many strange 
things in space, it was a weird feeling to stand with 
my head just above the surface of the pool and to 
look along the water. In one direction, parallel to the 
axis of the station, the surface was quite flat. But in 
the other it was curved upward on either side of me. 
At the edge of the pool, in fact, the water level was 
higher than my head. I seemed to be floating in the 
trough of a great, frozen wave. At any moment I ex- 
pected the water to come flooding down as the sur- 
face flattened itself out. But it didn't, because it was 
already "flat" in this strange gravity field. (When I 
got back to earth I made quite a mess trying to dem- 
onstrate this effect by whirling a bucket of water round 
my head at the end of a string. If you try the same 
experiment, make sure you're out of doors! ) 

We could not play around in that peculiar pool as 
long as I would have liked, for presently the loud- 
speakers began to call softly and I knew that my time 
was running out. All the passengers were asked to 
check the packing of their luggage and to assemble 
in the main hall of the station. The colonists, I knew, 



196 



Islands in the Sky 



were planning some kind of farewell, and though it 
didn't really concern me, I felt sufficiently interested 
to go along. After talking to the Moor.es I'd begun 
to like them and to understand their point of view a 
good deal better. 

It was a subdued little gathering that we joined a 
few minutes later. These weren't tough, confident 
pioneers any more. They knew that soon they'd be 
separated and in a strange world, among millions of 
other human beings with totally different modes of 
life. All their talk about "going home" seemed to have 
evaporated; it was Mars, not earth, they were home- 
sick for now. 

As I listened to their farewells and little speeches, 
I suddenly felt very sorry for them. And I felt sorry 
for myself, because in a few hours I too would be 
saying good-by to space. 



ChCiptCr 12 T ^ Long Fall Home 



had come up from earth by myself, but I was going 
home in plenty of company. There were nearly fifty 
passengers crowded into the "One Third Gravity" 
floor waiting to disembark. That was the comple- 
ment for the first rocket: the rest of the colonists would 
be going down on later flights. 

Before we left the station, we were all handed a 
bundle of leaflets full of instructions, warnings and 
advice about conditions on earth. I felt that it was 
hardly necessary for me to read through all this, but 
was quite glad to have another souvenir of my visit. 
It was certainly a good idea giving these leaflets out 
at this stage in the homeward journey, because it kept 
most of the passengers so busy reading that they didn't 

197 



198 



Islands in the Sky 



have time to worry about anything else until we'd 
landed. 

The air lock was only large enough to hold about 
a dozen people at a time, so it took quite a while to 
shepherd us all through. As each batch left the sta- 
tion, the lock had to be set revolving to counteract 
its normal spin, then it had to be coupled to the wait- 
ing spaceship, uncoupled again when the occupants 
had gone through, and the whole sequence restarted. 
I wondered what would happen if something jammed 
while the spinning station was connected to the sta- 
tionary ship. Probably the ship would come off worse— 
that is, next to the unfortunate people in the air lock! 
However, I discovered later that there was an addi- 
tional movable coupling to take care of just such an 
emergency. 

The earth ferry was the biggest spaceship I had 
ever been inside. There was one large cabin for the 
passengers, with rows of seats in which we were sup- 
posed to remain strapped during the trip. Since I was 
lucky enough to be one of the first to go aboard, I 
was able to get a seat near a window. Most of the 
passengers had nothing to look at but each other and 
the handful of leaflets they'd been given to read. 

We waited for nearly an hour before everyone was 
aboard and the luggage had been stowed away. Then 
the loud-speakers told us to stand by for take-off in 
five minutes. The ship had now been completely un- 



The long Fait Home 



coupled from the station and had drifted several 
hundred feet away from it. 

I had always thought that the return to earth would 
be rather an anticlimax after the excitement of a take- 
off. There was a different sort of feeling, it was true, 
but it was still quite an experience. Until now we 
had been, if not beyond the power of gravity, at least 
traveling so swiftly in our orbit that earth could never 
pull us down. But now we were going to throw away 
the speed that gave us safety. We would descend 
until we had re-entered the atmosphere and were 
forced to spiral back to the surface. If we came in 
too steeply, our ship might blaze across the sky like 
a meteor and come to the same fiery end. 

I looked at the tense faces around me. Perhaps the 
Martian colonists were thinking the same thoughts. 
Perhaps they were wondering what they were going 
to meet and do down on the planet which so few of 
them had ever before seen. I hoped that none of them 
would be disappointed. 

Three sharp notes from the loud-speaker gave us 
the last warning. Five seconds later the motors opened 
up gently, quickly increasing power to full thrust. I 
saw the Residential Station fall swiftly astern, its great, 
spinning drum dwindling against the stars. Then, with 
a lump in my throat, I watched the untidy maze of 
girders and pressure chambers that housed so many 
of my friends go swimming by. Useless though the 
gesture was, I couldn't help giving them a wave. After 



200 



Islands in the Sky 



all, they knew I was aboard this ship and might catch 
a glimpse of me through the window. 

Now the two components of the Inner Station were 
receding rapidly behind us and soon had passed out 
of sight under the great wing of the ferry. It was 
hard to realize that in reality we were losing speed 
while the station continued on its unvarying way. And 
as we lost speed, so we would start falling down to 
earth on a long curve that would take us to the other 
side of the planet before we entered the atmosphere. 

After a surprisingly short period, the motors cut out 
again. We had shed all the speed that was necessary, 
and gravity would do the rest. Most of the passen- 
gers had settled down to read, but I decided to have 
my last look at the stars, undimmed by atmosphere. 
This was also my last chance of experiencing weight- 
lessness, but it was wasted because I couldn't leave 
my seat. I did try— and got shooed back by the steward. 

The ship was now pointing against the direction 
of its orbital motion and had to be swung round so 
that it entered the atmosphere nose first. There was 
plenty of time to carry out this maneuver, and the 
pilot did it in a leisurely fashion with the low-powered 
steering jets at the wing-tips. From where I was sit- 
ting I could see the short columns of mist stabbing 
from the nozzles, and very slowly the stars swung 
around us. It was a full ten minutes before we came 
to rest again, with the nose of the ship now pointing 
due east. 



The long Fall Home 



201 



We were still almost live hundred miles above the 
Equator, moving at nearly eighteen thousand miles 
an hour. But we were now slowly dropping earth- 
ward. In thirty minutes we would make our first 
contact with the atmosphere. 

John was sitting next to me, and so I had a chance 
of airing my knowledge of geography. 

"That's the Pacific Ocean down there," I said. And 
something prompted me to add, not very tactfully, 
"You could drop Mars in it without going near either 
of the coast lines." 

However, John was too fascinated by the great ex- 
panse of water to take any offense. It must have been 
an overwhelming sight for anyone who had lived on 
sealess Mars. There are not even any permanent lakes 
on that planet, only a few shallow pools that form 
around the melting icecaps in the summer. And now 
John was looking down upon water that stretched as 
far as he could see in every direction, with a few 
specks of land dotted upon it here and there. 

"Look," I said, "there, straight ahead! You can see 
the coast line of South America. We can't be more 
than two hundred miles up now." 

Still in utter silence, the ship dropped earthward 
and the ocean rolled back beneath us. No one was 
reading now if he had a chance of seeing from one 
of the windows. I felt very sorry for the passengers 
in the middle of the cabin who weren't able to watch 
the approaching landscape beneath. 



Islands in the Sky 



The coast of South America flashed by in seconds, 
and ahead lay the great jungles of the Amazon. Here 
was life on a scale that Mars could not match, not 
even, perhaps, in the days of its youth. Thousands 
of square miles of crowded forests, countless streams 
and rivers were unfolding beneath us, so swiftly that 
as soon as one feature had been grasped, it was 
already out of sight. 

Now the great river was widening as we shot above 
its course. We were approaching the Atlantic, which 
should have been visible by this time, but which 
seemed to be hidden by mists. As we passed above 
the mouth of the Amazon, I saw that a great storm 
was raging below. From time to time brilliant flashes 
of lightning played across the clouds. It was uncanny 
to see all this happening in utter silence as we raced 
high overhead. 

"A tropical storm," I said to John. "Do you ever 
have anything like that on Mars?" 

"Not with rain, of course," he said. "But sometimes 
we get pretty bad sandstorms over the deserts. And 
I've seen lightning once or perhaps twice." 

"What, without rain clouds?" I asked. 

"Oh, yes, the sand gets electrified. Not very often, 
but it does happen." 

The storm was now far behind us, and the Atlantic 
lay smooth in the evening sun. We would not see it 
much longer, however, for darkness lay ahead. We 
were nearing the night side of the planet, and on the 



The Long Fall Home 



203 



horizon I could see a band of shadow swiftly ap- 
proaching as we hurtled into twilight. There was 
something terrifying about plunging headlong into 
that curtain of darkness. In mid-Atlantic we lost the 
sun, and at almost the same moment we heard the 
first whisper of air along the hull. 

It was an eerie sound, and it made the hair rise at 
the back of my neck. After the silence of space any 
noise seemed wrong. But it grew steadily as the min- 
utes passed, from a faint, distant wail to a high-pitched 
scream. We were still more than fifty miles up, but 
at the speed we were traveling even the incredibly 
thin atmosphere of these heights was protesting as 
we tore through it. 

More than that, it was tearing at the ship, slowing 
it down. There was a faint but steadily increasing tug 
from our straps; the deceleration was trying to force 
us out of our seats. It was like sitting in a car when 
the brakes are being slowly applied. But in this case, 
the braking was going to last for two hours, and 
we would go once more round the world before we 
slowed to a halt. 

We were no longer in a spaceship but an airplane. 
In almost complete darkness— there was no moon— we 
passed above Africa and the Indian Ocean. The fact 
that we were speeding through the night, traveling 
above the invisible earth at many thousands of miles 
an hour, made it all the more impressive. The thin 
shriek of the upper atmosphere had become a steady 



204 



Islands in Ihe Sky 



background to our flight; it grew neither louder nor 
fainter as the minutes passed. 

I was looking out into the darkness when I saw 
a faint red glow beneath me. At first, because there 
was no sense of perspective or distance, it seemed 
at an immense depth below the ship, and 1 could not 
imagine what it might be. A great forest fire, per- 
haps—but we were now, surely, over the ocean again. 
Then I realized, with a shock that nearly jolted me 
out of my seat, that this ominous red glow came from 
our wing. The heat of our passage through the 
atmosphere was turning it cherry-red. 

I stared at that disturbing sight for several seconds 
before I decided that everything was really quite in 
order. All our tremendous energy of motion was being 
converted into heat, though I had never realized just 
how much heat would be produced. For the glow 
was increasing even as I watched. When I flattened 
my face against the window, I could see part of the 
leading edge, and it was a bright yellow in places. 
I wondered if the other passengers had noticed it, 
or perhaps the little leaflets, which I hadn't bothered 
to read, had already told them not to worry. 

I was glad when we emerged into daylight once 
more, greeting the dawn above the Pacific. The glow 
from the wings was no longer visible, and so ceased 
to worry me. Besides, the sheer splendor of the sun- 
rise, which we were approaching at nearly ten thou- 
sand miles an hour, took away all other sensations. 



The Long Fall Home 



205 



From the Inner Station, I had watched many dawns 
and sunsets pass across the earth. But up there I had 
been detached, not part of the scene itself. Now I 
was once more inside the atmosphere and these 
wonderful colors were all around me. 

We had now made one complete circuit of the earth 
and had shed more than half our speed. It was much 
longer, this time, before the Brazilian jungles came 
into view, and they passed more slowly now. Above 
the mouth of the Amazon the storm was still raging, 
only a little way beneath us, as we started out on 
our last crossing of the South Atlantic. 

Then night came once more, and there again was 
the wing glowing redly in the darkness around the 
ship. It seemed even hotter now, but perhaps I had 
grown used to it, for the sight no longer worried me. 
We were nearly home, on the last lap of the journey. 
By now we must have lost so much speed that we 
were probably traveling no faster than many normal 
aircraft. 

A cluster of lights along the coast of East Africa 
told us that we were heading out over the Indian 
Ocean again. I wished I could be up in the control 
cabin, watching the preparations for the final ap- 
proach to the spaceport. By now the pilot would have 
picked up the guiding radio beacons and would be 
coming down the beam, still at a great speed but 
according to a carefully prearranged program. When 
we reached New Guinea, our velocity would be 



206 



Islands in the Sky 



almost completely spent. Our ship would be nothing 
more than a great glider, flying through the night sky 
on the last dregs of its momentum. 

The loud-speaker broke into my thoughts. 

"Pilot to passengers. We shall be landing in twenty 
minutes." 

Even without this warning, I could tell that the 
flight was nearing its end. The scream of the wind 
outside our hull had dropped in pitch, and there had 
been a perceptible change of direction as the ship 
slanted downward. And, most striking sign of all, the 
red glow outside the window was rapidly fading. Pres- 
ently there were only a few dull patches left, near 
the leading edge of the wing. A few minutes later, 
even these had gone. 

It was still night as we passed over Sumatra and 
Borneo. From time to time the lights of ships and 
cities winked into view and went astern— very slowly 
now, it seemed, after the headlong rush of our first 
circuit. At frequent intervals the loud-speaker called 
out our speed and position. We were traveling at less 
than a thousand miles an hour when we passed over 
the deeper darkness that was the New Guinea coast 
line. 

"There it is!" I whispered to John. The ship had 
banked slightly, and beneath the wing was a great 
constellation of lights. A signal flare rose up in a slow, 
graceful arc and exploded into crimson fire. In the 
momentary glare, I caught a glimpse of the white 



The long Fall Home 



207 



mountain peaks surrounding the spaceport, and I won- 
dered just how much margin of height we had. It 
would be very ironic to meet with disaster in the last 
few miles after traveling all this distance. 

I never knew the actual moment when we touched 
down, the landing was so perfect. At one instant we 
were still air-borne, at the next the lights of the run- 
way were rolling past as the ship slowly came to rest. 
I sat quite still in my seat, trying to realize that I 
was back on earth again. Then I looked at John. Judg- 
ing from his expression, he could hardly believe it 
either. 

The steward came around to help people release 
their seat straps and give last-minute advice. As I 
looked at the slightly harassed visitors, I could not 
help a mild feeling of superiority. 1 knew my way 
about on earth, but all this must be very strange to 
them. They must be realizing, also, that they were 
now in the full grip of earth's gravity, and there was 
nothing they could do about it until they were out 
in space again. 

As we had been the first to enter the ship, we were 
the last to leave it. I helped John with some of his 
personal luggage, as he was obviously not very happy 
and wanted at least one hand free to grab any con- 
venient support. 

"Cheer upl" I said. "You'll soon be jumping around 
just as much as you did on Mars!" 



208 



Islands in the Sky 



"I hope you're right," he answered gloomily. "At 
the moment 1 feel like a cripple who's lost his crutch." 

Mr. and Mrs. Moore, I noticed, had expressions of 
grim determination on their faces as they walked cau- 
tiously to the air lock. But if they wished they were 
back on Mars, they kept their feelings to themselves. 
So did the girls, who for some reason seemed less 
worried by gravity than any of us. 

We emerged under the shadow of the great wing, 
the thin mountain air blowing against our faces. It 
was quite warm, surprisingly so, in fact, for night at 
such a high altitude. Then I realized that the wing 
above us was still hot— probably too hot to touch, even 
though it was no longer visibly glowing. 

We moved slowly away from the ship toward the 
waiting transport vehicles. Before I stepped into the 
bus that would take us across to the Port buildings, 
I looked up once more at the starlit sky that had been 
my home for a little while, and which, I was resolved, 
would be my home again. Up there in the shadow 
of the earth, speeding the traffic that moved from 
world to world, were Commander Doyle, Tim Benton, 
Ronnie Jordan, Norman Powell, and all the other 
friends I'd made on my visit to the Inner Station. I 
remembered Commander Doyle's promise, and won- 
dered how soon I would remind him of it. . . . 

John Moore was waiting patiently behind me, 
clutching the door handle of the bus. He saw me look- 
ing up into the sky and followed my gaze. 



The Long Fall Home 



209 



"You won't be able to see the station," I said. "It's 
in eclipse." 

John didn't answer, and then I saw that he was 
staring into the east, where the first hint of dawn 
glowed along the horizon. High against these un- 
familiar southern stars was something that I did rec- 
ognize, a brilliant, ruby beacon, the brightest object 
in the sky. 

"My home," said John, in a faint, sad voice. 

I stared into that beckoning light and remembered 
the pictures John had shown me and the stories he 
had told. Up there were the great colored deserts, 
the old sea-beds that man was bringing once more 
to life, the little Martians who might, or might not, 
belong to a race that was more ancient than ours. 

And I knew that, after all, I was going to disappoint 
Commander Doyle. The space stations were too near 
home to satisfy me now. My imagination had been 
captured by that little red world glowing bravely 
against the stars. When I went into space again, the 
Inner Station would only be the first milestone on my 
outward road from earth.